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8 ROBERT LOUI 

STEVENSON'5 
EDINBURGH D^ 



. BLATSLTYRE SIMPS 



«^ 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 
EDINBURGH DAYS 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 
EDINBURGH DAYS : BY 

E. BLANTYRE SIMPSON 

ILLUSTRATED 

HODDER & STOUGHTON 

LONDON 

MCM 

XIV 



ALISON CUNNINGHAM 



CHAPTER VI 



301483 



FAGB 

3 



CONTENTS 

CHAPTER I 

BIRTH AND PARENTAGE .... 

CHAPTER U 

THOMAS STEVENSON . . . » * • ^5 

CHAPTER Hi 

MRS. STEVENSON 5^ 

CHAPTER IV 



77 



CHAPTER V 

INFANT DAYS '°5 



SCHOOLDAYS 

T 



125 



vi CONTEXTS 

CHAPTER VII 

PAGB 

SPRING EQUINOX I4S 

CHAPTER VIII 

LEARNING TO WRITE 177 

CHAPTER IX 

LEGAL AND LITERARY TRAINING .... I99 

CHAPTER X 
LIFE AT TWENTY-FIVE 229 

CHAPTER XI 

TRAVEL SONGS 26 I 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 
EDINBURGH DAYS 



BIRTH AND PARENTAGE 



■The happiest lot on earth is to be born a Scotsman.' 

— Silverado Squatters. 

' Here a boy he dwelt, through all the singing season, 
And ere the day of sorrow departed as he came.' 

— Underwoods, 



CHAPTER I 

BIRTH AND PARENTAGE 

Robert Louis Stevenson, speaking of the in- 
significant river which has car\'ed for itself a 
gorge through the west end of Edinburgh, credits 
this murky Water of Leith with making music 
in his memory. Within a bowshot of it he first 
saw the Hght on November 13th, 1850. 

His birthplace, 8 Howard Place, is in an 
unpretentious street, then one of the northern- 
most outskirts of Edinburgh. In the middle of 
the century there were, on this road to the 
Forth, old country^ houses, whose ample parks 
and pleasaunces made verdant spots amid the 
grey encroaching town. Facing Louis's first 
home, black against the sk\'-line, stands the 
shaggv' ridge of Corstorphine Hill. On that hill- 
side he made Alan Breck and David Balfour part 
company awhile, to meet again at Silvermills not 
far from his birthplace. Buildings have shut out 
this westerly outlook, and now Howard Place is 
hemmed in on all sides, though the gimp gardens 

3 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

in front of its two-storied modest houses, as well 
as the big laburnums and plenteous lilacs, tell by 
their free growth of greater space and air in more 
rustic days. 

Louis's home for the first seven winters of his 
life was in that neighbourhood, and he had 
a plentiful supply of such flowers and sunshine 
as Edinburgh is endowed with, and breezes with 
a whiff of the sea in them. Louis had an ever- 
green freshness of memory. Cheerful recollec- 
tions of his hopeful, happy childhood were 
stamped indelibly on his mind. 

His first nurse was a widow, who in after 
years read his books with great pride, though 
she had not seen him since she left him a helpless 
baby. She had a fancy for tales of a blood- 
curdHng description, and took special interest 
in her foster-son's most gruesome stories, flatter- 
ing herself he had imbibed the appetite for such 
from her. 

In the dawn of his days she took him for his 
first taste of the outer air into the Botanic Gar- 
dens, which are nearly opposite his birthplace. 
Lying full to the sun, with sheltered paths, fenced 
by walls and trees from the nipping sweep of 
easterly winds, it was an inviting parade-ground 
for nurses and their tender charges. Louis, in 

4 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

his Child Flay, as if he had not forgotten these 
immature days, speaks of the lazy interest which 
children, wheeled along in perambulators and half 
sunk in a species of pleasing stupor, evince in 
their surroundings. 

We can conjure up the image of the future 
author at this stage, in a hat bulky with pro- 
tective ear-bows, absurdly chubby of cheek, with 
his dark eyes alertly noting the things of colour 
and life within his range, or contemplating other 
juveniles with placid condescension, as in this 
wordless state of existence they passed one 
another by with exchange of infantine smiles. 
He also studied the world from the windows of 
his home. The students of botany, hurrying in 
the May mornings to their lecture among the 
flowers, might often have seen a small child held 
up to the window to gaze at the lads, who were 
almost as early astir as the dust-carts. 

When Louis was beginning to toddle on his 
unstable legs and to talk in a language only his 
parents understood, he had the good fortune to 
have Alison Cunningham engaged as his nurse. 
From the lucky day she crossed his path, he 
may be said to have had two mothers. The 
task of guarding his health and harbouring his 
feeble strength gave ample work to a couple of 

5 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

capable women. Robert Louis Stevenson was 
not like many eventually successful Scots, who 
have had to fight their way upward from a 
lowly rung on the ladder. He was born with 
the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth. An 
only son, a treasured child, he had before him 
substantial worldly prospects. He was reared 
in a home where he w^as lapped in love. A 
poor lad has often at least one advantage over 
a rich one, for in the narrow sphere of a cottage 
he tastes life nearest the bone, where it is sweet- 
est, and has the full benefit of his mother's 
watchful guardianship without any intervening 
nursery. But young Louis, when social duties 
kept Mrs. Stevenson from him, ever had his 
* second mother ' at his beck and call. 

When he grew big enough to make daily walks 
abroad, a neighbour recollects watching him as 
he was led along on the sunniest side of the 
pavement, firmly gripping nurse's hand, his face 
flanked with flannel, for he suffered continually 
from earache. 

A tender little plant he looked, despite the 
plumpness of babyhood which still rounded his 
cheeks. His daily walks did not extend very 
far. He often peered through the gates of 
Warriston, looking up at the square house stand- 

6 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

ing pleasantly in its beech-fringed park. WTien 
he grew old enough to digest grisly tales, he 
learned how an Edinburgh tragedy had been 
enacted there : how a wife hired a man to beat 
her husband to death, and how she walked up 
and down the long corridor looking out on the 
silver-stemmed beeches till the cries of the 
wretched man were stilled. 

A pond in the Botanic Gardens, with a verdant 
knoll rising out of it, was another pet place of 
young Louis's ; water and even a make-believe 
island were early attractive to him. Adventur- 
ous daisies pied the old turf there before their 
due season, and the boy, ever fond of flowers, 
used to pick these stunted pioneers, and with 
the painfully short-stemmed posy, limp with 
being pressed in his hot hands, he would hurry 
home to his mother. ' Cummy ' had to lift him 
up in her long-suffering arms every time they 
crossed Canonmills Bridge, to look over the 
parapet and watch the Water of Leith as it 
swirled down in winter, a turbulent flood over- 
flowing its channel, and hiding the grass under 
its darkling, frothy waters. * Often and often I 
desire to look upon it again,' he says, — ^not from 
this bridge, perhaps, but from a point some miles 
further inland, where it ran, speckled with mill 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

foam, past his grandfather's manse. Beside this 
drumlie river at Canonmills Bridge, there was 
to be seen a garden, which flourished under the 
lee of the protecting parapet. It was a reminder 
of country days, a garden with strawberr>^ plots 
edged by a border of old-fashioned flowers, and 
apple and pear trees blooming early in the 
hollow. Young Louis could watch the first hints 
of spring from his outlook on the bridge. When 
he was at Samoa, it is recorded of him that 
* his eyes were never at rest, nothing escaped 
his notice — birds, flowers, or the tiny snow-white 
clouds hanging high in the blue empyrean.* So 
when but a toddling bairn, holding to Cummy's 
hand for support and guidance, his quick eyes 
noted everything around him. 

Louis Stevenson acquired, almost in infancy, a 
fancy for mills, and close by his first Edinburgh 
home stood some red-roofed, grey- walled mills, 
where, some eight hundred years before, corn had 
been ground for the canons of Holy rood. The 
mill lades have long since been buried and turned 
into town drains, and the quaint cottages with 
the outside stairs that gathered around the 
ancient mills with the red roofs will not see a 
new century. 

The history of his native town was of interest 

8 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

to this slim son of hers even when he was small. 
His kith and kin for generations had been 
citizens of Auld Reekie. His grandsire's people 
had dwelt within its old walls. His mother's 
connections, the Balfours, owned Pilrig, on the 
main road that stretched from the city of his 
childhood to the sea. Pilrig House stood then 
in its pleasaunce, and Leith Walk was a country 
road. Louis speaks of his grandfather racing 
up the green avenue to Pilrig House, and as a 
student marching up the Bridges ' in trim 
stockinged legs in that city of cocked hats and 
good Scotch still unadulterated.' Louis sent his 
hero, David, to Pilrig to see his cousin, the 
Laird, so he was related to his own creation. 
David Balfour saw Pilrig House much as Robert 
Louis Stevenson's grandfather, Lewis Balfour, 
knew it in his young days, when corpses creaked 
in chains on the Gallows Lee, between Pilrig and 
Edinburgh. 

It was at this grandfather's manse at Colinton 
that Louis first learned, he says, to love mills. 
' Had I an ancestor a miller ? * he asks, to ac- 
count for this early developed taste, and he finds 
a Stevenson who was a lessee of the Canonmills. 
A Bailie Stevenson, w^ho lived at the time of 
the Restoration, and * the miller of Canonmills, 

9 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

worthy man ! ' were, he feared, really debarred 
from his pedigree, and he complains, ' I am re- 
duced to a family of inconspicuous maltsters.' 
Whence through the trail of heredity he drew 
some of his special gifts it is not hard to trace, 
for he came of a shrewd and cultivated stock. 
But his peculiarities in manner and appearance 
cannot be accounted for by his forbears. He 
has taken us with him in a Stevensonian genea- 
logical hunt, a hunt pursued at intervals of 
several years, which he ultimately wove into the 
Records of a Family of Engineers, He came to 
the conclusion that ' on the whole the Stevensons 
may be described as decent, reputable folk, 
following honest trades— millers, maltsters, and 
doctors — playing the character parts in the 
Waverley Novels with propriety if without dis- 
tinction, and to an orphan looking about him 
in the world for a potential ancestry offering a 
plain and quite unadorned refuge equally free 
from shame and glory.* 

His direct paternal kinsmen, who bore succes- 
sively the name of Robert, sprang, in 1675, from 
one James Stevenson, of Nether Carsewell, malt- 
ster, in the then clean and handsome city on the 
Clyde. Louis's grandfather was the third Robert 

in this Hne. He had been early left an orphan, 
10 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

his young father, Alan Stevenson, and Alan's 
brother, Hugh, having died in the West Indies, 
whither they had gone in pursuit of an unjust 
steward. Alan's widow married a second time, 
a widower, Thomas Smith, who carried on a 
trade in oil, and brought into the Stevenson 
blood a love of lamps, a love a future Stevenson 
who * stayed at home and played with paper like 
a child ' fully inherited. * I will say it fairly,' 
he writes, ' it grows on me with ever>' year ; 
there are no stars so lovely as Edinburgh street 
lamps. When I forget thee, Auld Reekie, may my 
right ha7id forget its cunnijig' 

Thomas Smith, who was an enterprising man, 
began to trade with the Northern Lights Com- 
missioners, and he brought to their notice the 
advantages of oil lamps and reflectors as com- 
pared with the open fires of coals. He had a 
daughter by his previous marriage. His step- 
son, young Robert Stevenson, fixed on this semi- 
sister as his helpmeet, and found in her a piously 
inclined douce wife. From among the many 
children she bore him but three of the sons sur- 
vived, the future builders of harbours and those 
great pharoses which form round our coasts a 
chain of brilliant, helpful Northern Lights. 

There can be no doubt whence Louis imbibed 

IZ 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

his love of adventure and of the sea. Ships bulk 
largely in Tusitala's tales. A ship very appro- 
priately appeared on his monument at San Fran- 
cisco, a fine old-world galley of the build those 
Vikings used in their sea-raidings. There hung 
in the house of Louis's boyish great-grandfather, 
Alan Stevenson, ' and,' he savs, * successively in 
those of my grandfather and father, an oil paint- 
ing of a ship of many tons burthen. The pic- 
ture was preserved through years of hardship, 
and remains to this day in the possession of the 
family, the only memorial of my great-grandsire 
Alan. It was on this ship that he sailed on his 
last adventure, summoned to the West Indies by 
Hugh.' In his Memories Louis relates how a 
frigate in a window took his eye, and ' when upon 
any Saturday we made a party to behold the 
ships we passed that corner, and since in those 
days I loved a ship as a man loves Burgundy 
or daybreak, this of itself was enough to hallow 
it.' 

If engineering in 1870 had been as much on 
the rough as it was some eighty years before, 
Thomas Stevenson would not have had any diffi- 
culty in persuading his son to follow in the foot- 
steps of his sires. Louis, speaking sympatheti- 
cally, yet enviously, of the difficulties and dangers 

12 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

his grandfather, Robert Stevenson, had to face 
when trying to Hght our dark coasts, says : * It 
must not be forgotten that these voyages in the 
tender were the particular pleasure and reward 
of his existence ; that he had in him a reserve of 
romance which carried him delightedly over these 
hardships and perils, that to him it was " a great 
gain " to be eight nights and seven days in the 
savage Bay of Levensurck — to read a book in 
the much -agitated cabin, to go on deck and hear 
the gale scream in his ears and see the land- 
scape dark with rain and the ship plunge at her 
two anchors, and to turn in at night and wake 
again at morning in his narrow berth to the 
clamorous and continued voices of the gale.* 
This near relative bequeathed some of his char- 
acteristics with a bountiful plenitude to his 
descendant, for from him Louis inherited his 
' anxious exactitude about details, an interesting 
flow of conversation, a taste for sea and adven- 
ture, and lastly that reserve of romance.' Louis, 
remarking on his grandfather's letters to his 
small sons, says that besides all these he had ' a 
fine scent of all that was romantic to a boy.' 

From his mother's side Louis, like David 
Balfour, came of the Balfours of Pilrig. His 
grandfather was what he called ' a herd of men.' 

13 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

In Memories and Portraits he gives us a well- 
executed sketch of Mrs. Stevenson's old home, 
and of her father, the Rev. Lewis Balfour, in his 
manse at Colinton. The minister we see grey of 
locks, handsome of feature, upright of carriage, 
smacking his Hps over a * barley-sugar kiss,' a 
sweetmeat administered to Louis as a reward 
after a dose of medicine. Louis's last recollec- 
tion of his grandfather was of an old gentleman 
sternly forbidding his daughter. Miss Balfour, 
to give a lollipop to her expectant nephew, for 
the boy had had no horrid gregory to swallow. 
From the Balfours the author took his name, 
except the Robert, which came to him from the 
Stevensons. His mother disliked the names 
Thomas and Robert, and wished the latter 
excluded. Mr. Stevenson, however, had the 
old-fashioned belief in a grandson bearing the 
name of his father's father, though he said he 
might drop it for everyday use. He promised 
his wife her boy would be spoken of as Lewis, 
unless she had another son, when, according to 
hereditary rule, she had the naming of him after 
her father. Robert Lewis Balfour our hero was 
baptized. Perhaps he thought there was a 
superabundance of letters in R. L. B. S. The 
Balfour soon dropped out of his name, and early 
14 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

he became R. L. S., which initials, says Mr. 
Barrie, ' are, I suppose, the best beloved in recent 
literature ; certainly they are the sweetest to 

me.' 

He also, like his grandsire, started in life with 
his name spelt Lewis. The stor>^ of the change 
to Louis is remarkable. Mr. Stevenson was a 
strong Conser\'ative. Now in Robert Louis 
Stevenson's youthful years there was a Radical 
town councillor yclept Lewis. So strong was 
Mr. Stevenson's aversion to the man that he 
ordered that in future his son's name should be 
spelt differently, even with a Frenchified turn in 
it, for fear the two families should be thought 
in any way connected. So the boy's patronymic 
was in a manner severed from the minister of 
Colinton, and his mother often regretted he had 
dropped her father's honoured surname. Young 
Robert Louis owns that he felt he had little in 
common with the Rev. Dr. Lewis Balfour. 
' Now,' he writes, ' I often wonder what I in- 
herited from this old minister. Try as I please, 
I cannot join myself on with the reverend doctor ; 
and all the while, no doubt, and even as I write 
the phrase, he moves in my blood and whispers 
words to me, and sits efficient in the ver>^ knot 

and centre of my being.' 

15 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

Louis's mother was born in the old manse of 
Colinton. ' A large family,' her boy says, ' of 
stalwart sons and tall daughters was housed and 
reared, and came to man and womanhood in that 
nest of little chambers, so that the face of the 
earth was peppered with the children of the 
manse, and letters with outlandish stamps became 
familiar to the local postman. The dullest could 
see this was a house that had a pair of hands in 
divers foreign places.' Though Balfours wan- 
dered afar over the globe, it was not so much 
love of travel as the Scot's destiny which impelled 
them to leave the crowded homeland and cross 
the seas in search of work. The commanding 
presence of the silvery-headed divine who shep- 
herded his human flocks at Colinton filled the 
eye and duly impressed his small namesake. 
Louis regretted no share of the Balfour fine looks 
had come his way. The children of the old 
manse were a blue-eyed race, shapely in feature 
and noble in carriage. In 1863 Louis, in Random 
Memories^ mentions that at Leven there was still 
to be seen * the tall figure and white locks of the 
last Englishman in Delhi, my uncle. Dr. Balfour, 
who was still walking his hospital rounds, while 
the troopers from Meerut clattered and cried 
** Deen Deen " along the streets of the imperial 

j6 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

city.* Another Dr. Balfour, whom Louis calls 
' that wise youth, my uncle,* testifies in Edin- 
burgh to-day that the Balfours are a strikingly 
good-looking race. Louis's mother was a slim, 
active woman, and no one seeing her in her 
latter years, with her erect figure and fresh face, 
would have believed her the mother of a son 
who had died aged forty-five. Mrs. Stevenson 
was a cultured and clever woman. Luckily Louis 
inherited her bright, vivacious disposition ; but 
he tells us the Balfours were unemotional, 
hating the display of what they felt. Their 
descendant was the reverse of this, and his 
original unconventionality, his tropical tempera- 
ment, and his foreign appearance, cannot be 
traced to any of his progenitors. Louis wrote 
most likely with a twinkle of fun lighting up 
his Southern sunny eyes. * To one more tradi- 
tion I may allude, that we are somehow descended 
from a French barber-surgeon who came to St. 
Andrews in the ser\dce of one of the Cardinal 
Beatons. No details were added. But the 
very name of France was so detested in my 
family for three generations that I am tempted 
to suppose there may be something in it.' 

There was another Stevenson, one of Louis's 
cousins, who seemed to have a strong dash of 

B 17 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

Bohemlanism, though he too came of the same 
orderly family of engineers. There can be no 
doubt that it was from some Stevenson that they 
acquired alien blood, for two of his descendants 
rebelled against the prim decorum of the accepted 
codes of social life, and both refused a lucrative 
and hereditary seat in the office their sires had 
made, preferring the more precarious earnings by 
pen and brush. The fact that the two bore the 
same grandfather's name, and were in many 
things so alike, make it clear that this gipsy 
strain came from the father's side, though as 
far back as the author of A Family of Engineers 
(feeling, he says, as if he had his ancestors' 
souls in his charge all the while) could fathom, 
the Stevensons, and the wives they married, 
were an industrious, thrifty set of quiet-going, 
reputable folk. 

In a delightful genealogical glimpse, Louis, 
when wandering over * our ancestral adventures 
which are beyond even the arithmetic of fancy,' 
to account for perv^erse caprices, harks back to 
' tree-top memories like undeveloped negatives ' 
lying dormant in his mind. ' And though, to- 
day, I am only a man of letters,' he goes on to 
say, ' either tradition errs, or I was present when 
there landed at St. Andrews a French barber- 

i8 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

surgeon, to tend the health and the beard of the 
great Cardinal Beaton. I have shaken a spear in 
the Debateable Land, and shouted the slogan of 
the Elliots. I was present when a skipper, ply- 
ing from Dundee, smuggled Jacobites to France 
after the '15. I was in a West India merchant's 
office, perhaps next door to Bailie Nicol Jarvie, 
and managed the business of a plantation in St. 
Kitts. I was with my engineer-grandfather (the 
son-in-law of the lamp and oil man) when he 
sailed north about Scotland on the famous cruise 
that gave us The PiraU and The Lord of the Isles ; 
I was with him, too, on the Bell Rock in the fog, 
when the Smeaton drifted from her moorings, 
and the Aberdeen men, pick in hand, had seized 
upon the only boats, and he must stoop and lap 
sea-water before his tongue could utter audible 
words ; and once more with him when the Bell 
Rock beacon took a " thrawe " and his workmen 
fled into the tower, then nearly finished, and he 
sat unmoved reading in his Bible — or affecting to 
read — till one after another slunk back with con- 
fusion of countenance to their engineer. Yes, 
parts of me have seen life, and met adventures, 
and sometimes met them well' This descendant 
of these men, although wanting in physical 
strength, certainly was endowed with their en- 

19 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

durance and their pluck. Though frail of body, 
he enjoyed in a manner a robustness of consti- 
tution few have equalled, for he found * true 
health is to be able to do without it.* He was 
denied strong lungs and limbs, and any palpable 
immunity from sickness, yet he had a full measure 
of lusty vigour, for he faced the ills of the flesh so 
gallantly that, according to his own argument, he 
was a Samson in strength. 

We have seen whence he gleaned his mettle- 
some bravery, but we know not which of the 
many threads and fibres of his being can account 
for his unique, unnational look, for never could 
he persuade an official he was a Briton, much 
less a Scotsman. He was, he complained, cast 
into dungeons as a spy, arrested as a vagrant 
pedlar, and looked at askance when he went to 
cash cheques at strange banks, and his pass- 
port was ever most suspiciously scrutinized. It 
is curious, too, that the descendant of the gentle- 
blooded Balfours and the even-going Stevensons 
had such * gangrel feet,' which made him long to 
wander like any genuine gipsy. His whole being 
yearned for brilliance of colouring and the sun- 
shiny heat of the South. ' There is one of 
nature's spiritual ditties,' he early wrote, * that 
has not yet been set to words or human music, 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

** The Invitation to the Road," an air continually 
sounding in the ears of gipsies, and to whose 
inspiration our nomadic fathers journeyed all 
their days.' 

Louis was not given a musical ear along with 
his poetic endowments, but this spiritual song he 
could always appreciate, and he would not have 
changed ears with those who cannot hear its 
music. ' What sleeper in green tree-tops, what 
muncher of nuts concludes my pedigree ? * Robert 
Louis Stevenson asks anxiously. It seems to us 
some long dormant ' tree-top instinct ' awoke in 
him and sent him away from us to settle amid 
the gaudy, luxuriant richness of a South Sea isle. 
Some unrecorded progenitor must have listened 
to that nomadic spiritual ditty which gipsies 
hear so readily and sing so invitingly, leading 
others with them along the free and open road. 
For Louis undisguisedly delighted to escape out 
of what he called the Bastille of civilization, and 
become * a mere kindly animal and a sheep of 
nature's flock,' even though on his travels he 
found ' the globe, granite underfoot and strewn 
with cutting flints.' 



THOMAS STEVENSON 



23 



'The life-work of Thomas Stevenson remains ; what we have 
lost, what we now try to recall, is the friend and companion.'— 
Memories and Portraits. 



CHAPTER II 

THOMAS STEVENSON 

Though his pedigree does not shed much light 
on the origin of Louis's Southern looks, his 
responsive, mobile manners, his special gifts, we 
have more authentic acquaintance with those 
to whom he owed his existence, those who guided 
and guarded him in his youth, and gave a training 
bend to his thoughts when he was but a green 
twig. 

It vexed Mrs. Stevenson in her latter years to 
hear or see it stated that Louis and his father 
were antagonistic, and had waged a bitter civil 
war. People, she said, assumed that types of 
unhappy youths such as Archie Weir and 
examples of rebellion against parental author- 
ity were drawn from the author's own personal 
experience. There was, it is true, a deal of 
diversity between Thomas Stevenson's nature 
and that of his only child, but underlying the 
engineer's reserved decorum and sombreness 
there were many points of resemblance and sym- 
pathy between father and son. No one enjoyed 

25 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

Thomas Stevenson*s talk more than Louis, who 
says it was ' compounded of so much sterUng 
sense and so much freakish humour, and clothed 
in language so apt, droll, and emphatic, that it 
was a perpetual delight to all that knew him. 
His use of language was both just and pictur- 
esque. Love, anger, and indignation shone 
through him and broke forth in imagery, like 
what we read of in Southern races.' Louis 
gloried in his father's whimsical fancies, his 
* blended sternness and softness that was wholly 
Scottish, and at first somewhat bewildering ; 
with a profound essential melancholy of dis- 
position, and (what often accompanies it) the 
most humorous geniality in company.' No one, 
I think, appreciated his father's good qualities, 
his humour, his quips and fads, even his dogged 
theological views, more than the son who drew 
so just and masterly a portrait of Thomas Steven- 
son, Civil Engineer. 

* Smout ' Mr. Stevenson rechristened his small 
boy, a name he was long known by in his home 
circle. Smout was simply worshipped by his two 
mothers. On the brief days of winter, when his 
mother and Cummy were partakers of a gorgeous 
banquet, while he, the dispenser of the feast, sat 

in a paper crown and presided over the mimic 

26 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

tea-set (which still lives on Cummy's table), the 

small boy, hearing the gate click, and his father's 

key in the latch, would fly downstairs to greet the 

master of the house and invite him to the ' party.* 

No caressing and adoration that had been 

lavished upon this sole monarch of the nursery 

was half so appreciated by his majesty as the 

kindly glance he saw beam on him from out of 

his father's deep-set eyes, and the strong hand 

held out to him, and the grave, interrogative 

greeting, * Well, Smout ? ' The open-hearted, 

manifestly affectionate boy quite understood 

his apparently undemonstrative father ; and 

though they bickered in words when the son 

grew up, and argued and discussed with much 

warmth, a good fellowship always existed between 

them. Louis always warred in words with his 

friends, and neither filial affection nor fear of his 

father's displeasure ever rendered him dumb or 

submissive. The two fought many a duel which, 

to outsiders, seemed irreverent rebellion on the 

son's part, but the father liked his boy's fearless 

thruots. He could, truly, from his heart, dedicate 

a volume ' in love and gratitude ' to the father 

* by whose devices the great sea-lights in every 

quarter of the world now shine more brightly.' 

Mr. Stevenson came of a large family, of which 

27 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

only five survived. They were mown down by 
the harvester Death two or three at a time. 
Thomas Stevenson's mother, her grandson says, 
was * a devout, unambitious woman, occupied 
with her Bible, her children, and her house ; 
easily shocked, and associating largely with a 
clique of godly parasites.' She seemed strongly 
tinctured with narrow, pietistical morbidness, 
and certainly two of her grandchildren — Robert 
Alan and Robert Louis — did not derive their 
puzzling peculiarities from her. Some of her 
characteristics reappear in Mrs. Weir. * The 
scene has often been described to me of my 
grandfather sawing with darkened countenance 
at some indissoluble joint, " Preserve me, my 
dear, what kind of a reedy, stringy beast is 
this ? " of the joint removed, the pudding 
substituted and uncovered ; and of my grand- 
mother's anxious glance and hasty deprecatory 
comment, " Just mismanaged." The cook was 
a godly woman, the butcher a Christian man, 
and the table suffered.' Lord Hermiston's case 
is almost parallel, Mrs. Weir having a household 
of * Christian servants ' quite incompetent like 
Mrs. Robert Stevenson's. 

Thomas Stevenson, brought up by this bigot- 
edly pious mother, who early became such a 

28 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

* veteran in affliction,' had what her grandson 
aptly describes as * a sense of humour under 
strong control.' About him was an air of im- 
perturbable gravity, but below his portentous 
seriousness there often lurked a smile at the 
corner of the firm-set mouth, and those who 
knew him best, knew the staunch, warmly 
affectionate nature of the man. He looked on 
the sickly colour and the high brow of his small 
Smout, and was oppressed by the fear that his 
all-precious, only child would wither away, for 
he remembered how his brothers and sisters, 
though they had appeared to be rosy and strong, 
never grew up. He came of a healthy family. 
These were unsanitary times, and whooping 
cough and measles were rife in their tightly 
packed flat. Thomas Stevenson used to lull 
himself to sleep with self-told tales which dealt 
perpetually with ships, roadside inns, robbers, 
old sailors, and commercial travellers before the 
use of steam. They seem to us the foundation 
of many stories we know. In one of his essays 
Louis speaks of Scotch children hearing much 
of * shipwreck, outlying iron skerries, pitiless 
breakers, and great sea-lights ; much of heathery 
mountains, wild clans, and hunted Covenanters.' 

There was certainly one Northern bairn who 

29 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

heard much of these things as he sat on his 
father's knee. This verbal record of the engin- 
eers was full of a lively interest to young Louis. 
He heard how French frigates threatened to 
capture the engineer's ship ; how his father as 
a boy, touring with his father, was all but 
wrecked in a fog ; and how they once fired a 
gun opposite a fishing village in order to rouse 
up the inhabitants to their help, and roused 
instead a camp of wreckers, who calmly waited 
for them to drift on to the rocks. All the 
history of these embryo days of engineering was 
good to listen to, and little Louis pondered over 
it and enacted some of the most exciting bits 
anew in the nursery. He longed then to grow 
up and go and light the mariner home, and warn 
him of shoals by a newer Inchcape Bell, so — 

* Whether fogs arise, and far and wide 
The low sea level drown — each finds a tongue, 
And all night long the bell resounds, 
So shine, so toil, till night be overpast, 
Till the stars vanish, till the sun return, 
And in the haven rides the fleet secure.' 

Mr. Stevenson not only gave his little Tusitala 
a taste for adventurous tales, but his peculiar 
theories on education were the theories which 
best suited his son. To look at Thomas Steven- 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

son a hasty obsen^er would have thought he 
had been one of those that uphold a rigid course 
of study, and rigidly apply the tawse if need be. 
But he himself in his learning time had been a 
consistent idler, and he held he acquired more 
by idHng than he did on the school bench. He 
would stop schoolboys in the street, look at their 
burden of books, shake his head over such trash, 
and advise them with earnestness to pay no 
heed to the rubbish which was being crammed 
into them. He begged them to look about them, 
play to their heart's content, but to read or study 
only what their inclination dictated . The school- 
boys would, open-mouthed, gaze at the firm- 
faced man who seriously propounded such 
palatable views. They keenly suspected he 
was making fun of them, and went on their 
way puzzled. He never ceased to expostulate 
against the absurdity of education as conducted 
at present in the seats of learning. Never by 
his father was Louis asked how he stood in his 
classes. Mr. Stevenson simply did not oppose 
the boy's being sent to school. 

One amusing episode of Robert Louis Steven- 
son's schooldays and his father's manner of 
teasing the boy comes down to us in one of 
his minor pieces. * Robert's voice,' a master 

31 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

had said, ' is not strong, but impressive/ * This 
opinion,* Louis adds, * I was fool enough to carry 
home to my father, who roasted me for years in 
consequence.' If Louis, in some dispute or 
childish excitement, raised his tone to a shrill 
pitch, Mr. Stevenson would listen with inten- 
tional gravity, and when Louis's treble was 
silenced would turn to a visitor and remark, 
' Louis is noted at school for his impressive 
voice,' and would meditate on their stupidity 
in not having been impressed thereby, till their 
attention had been drawn towards the force of 
that not strong voice. Meanwhile the boy, 
smarting under the well-applied rebuke, would 
in vain, with his tones getting shriller at every 
word, protest against this oft-recurring sarcasm, 
till, in a fit of impotent rage, he would fly to the 
nursery to be praised and adored. All the 
flattery mother and nurse lavished on him was 
not as sweet to him as one word or glance of 
approval from his father. When he was grown 
up, Mr. Stevenson at times referred to this old 
blister, and Louis, remembering the smart every 
allusion to his impressive voice had given him 
when in frocks, laughed at the remembrance. 
Even in these after years, when the son had a 
ready affluence of speech wherewith to argue 
32 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

and defend himself against his father, Mr. Steven- 
son, I think, still came off victorious. Louisas 
talk was too wordy and spoken in unheeding 
haste. It was like water sparkling on shallows. 
He gesticulated the while impatiently. His 
father sat immovable, and brought the heavy 
artillery of his speech to bear with annihilating 
force on the feu de joie and rapid cannonade of 
words which flowed from his son's lips. In 
fact, in peace or war, Mr. Stevenson was very 
like the strong towers he built, devoid of all 
elaborate flourishes, solid, reliable, able to meet 
the strength of the attacking waves without 
flinching, immovable as they splashed or fretted 
or dashed around him. 

A thorough man of business, inventing many 
improvements for strengthening and perfecting 
the revolving lights for the pharoses, acknow- 
ledged at home and abroad as a distinguished 
man in his profession, he had excellent taste and 
discrimination in books, pictures, and engravings. 
He was partial to sunflowers and antique furni- 
ture. Long before they were revived as a 
fashionable mania, Mr. Stevenson had a piece of 
the handiwork of that double-faced scoundrel. 
Deacon Brodie, who was outwardly a cabinet- 
maker and a respected official in the Church, 
c 33 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

but who, beside his legitimate trade, lived by 
gambling and burglary. Louis used to complain 
that the Deacon's cabinet creaked eerily in the 
night watches. 

Mr. Stevenson had, his son says, ' a morbid 
sense of his own unworthiness. He would never 
consent to be an elder in St. Stephen's, though 
his advice was often sought, and he ser\'ed the 
Church of Scotland on many committees. Mor- 
bid, too, was his sense of the fleetingness of life 
and his concern for death.' He once wrote, by 
request of the editor of a Scottish religious 
magazine, a paper entitled * Vanity of Vanities : 
A Layman's Sermon.' He preached well. It 
is distinctly a sermon with grit in it. He de- 
scribes a worldly man's death and funeral with 
a grim truthfulness ; tells how the dead man's 
friends, who had often met at his convivial board, 
assemble in his dining-room for the last time ere 
their host departs * to the narrow house appointed 
for all living.' With a few masterly strokes he 
depicts the selfish heartlessness of the dead man's 
household, the coachman in the harness-room 
scanning the papers for a new place, the gossiping 
conversation in the mourning coaches. ' What 
do we think of his life ? ' Mr. Stevenson pointedly 
asks. * Are ours any truer or better ? Have we 

34 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

done any more than he did for the sick and suffer- 
ing poor, or for Christ's cause on the earth ? ' 
Thomas Stevenson was a man who pondered 
much on ' the claims of Christ and His cause.' 
He was a man generous in helping the sick or 
sorrowful in his sincere, unobtrusive way, but 
that was one light he never flashed before his 
fellows. He wrote also in the defence of Chris- 
tianity, and his work was highly praised by many 
learned authorities. His * Layman's Sermon ' 
is to be found in a volume of his Life and Work, 
It is a pity it is so deeply buried, for many have 
evinced renewed interest in it since they dis- 
covered that it was preached by the father of 
Robert Louis Stevenson. 

In Edinburgh Mr. Stevenson ' breathed an 
air that pleased him,' and into the country 
round the fair city he loved to wander ' with a 
congenial friend, if he did not keep dangling 
about the town from one book shop to another, 
and scraping romantic acquaintance with every 
dog that passed.' He addressed all his canine 
friends with a courteous civility. There was 
a liver-and-white spaniel, which long Hved a 
vagrant existence about the west end of Princes 
Street. Mr. Stevenson used to visit it con- 
stantly, and invite it to lunch at a confectioner's. 



:>^ 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

With his slow, purposeful step he would turn 
aside out of the throng to converse with his 
four-legged acquaintance, and the spaniel, with 
hungry brown eyes thirsting for notice, would 
gaze trustfully up into his steady grey eyes. 
He christened his friend by a family name, 
* Bob.' I also often greeted this stray spaniel, 
and Mr. Stevenson was surprised one day when 
he found we had a mutual friend. At first he 
pretended to be jealous of any other patron of 
this spotted dog, but he finally confided to me 
its name and its tastes. If any one discovered 
him in a doorway talking to or meditating over 
Bob, who meanwhile wagged a joyous stumpy 
tail, and held his head aloft so as to have his 
chin scratched or his ears pulled, Mr. Stevenson 
was embarrassed and apologetic. Sometimes at 
his own table, when the wintry storm was driving 
at the windows and he was sitting amid peace 
and plenty, he would, with real concern, wonder 
if ' Bob ' had got into the shelter of some friendly 
doorway, or whether he had strayed into the 
Caledonian station and sought shelter by some 
lamp-room fire. Like other Edinburgh dogs, 
' Bob ' no doubt * raked the backets,' i.e., fed 
off the refuse boxes put out nightly by house- 
holders for the dustmen to lift next morning. 
36 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

On Saturday nights no ' backets * are put out, 
as no carts go rumbling along on the Sabbath. 
Mr. Stevenson was sore distressed that Sunday 
was unavoidably a fast day for the spaniel and 
other homeless dogs. He hoped * Bob ' was 
foreseeing and buried a bone, even if it had to 
be resurrected out of the West Kirk-yard for 
his Sunday's dinner. Mr. Stevenson only spoke 
of his four-footed friend when he thought he had 
a sympathetic listener. He was sincere in his 
affections, and in his conduct * transparently 
honest,' his son says ; but this earnest simplicity 
of his made him much beloved and much rever- 
enced. Louis, even to a casual observer, was an 
emotional youth, and evidently a bundle of 
nerves, whims, and fancies. It surprised stran- 
gers to find that the father, a grave, granite- 
looking man, was also full of strange theories, 
fantastic thoughts, and an almost exaggerated 
chivalry towards all laws and sentiments regard- 
ing the weaker sex. His strong leaning to 
melancholy gave him a pondering, deep-thinking 
expression. His wife and child, on the other 
hand, were of gay and sanguine disposition, yet 
in strong sympathy with the head of the house. 
It was lucky for all that they, in some measure, 
counterbalanced his seriousness. The Rev. 

37 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

Lewis Balfour was a * contented gentleman,' we 
read in his grandson's record, and it was well 
that that youth had his full share of this bright- 
some Balfour characteristic. He needed it, for 
if Louis had inherited his father's diffident, dark- 
ened nature, it would have gone hard with him. 
He had so poor a measure of health that he 
required all his mother's cheerful buoyancy of 
spirit to carry him over the rough waters of con- 
tinued sickness. His loss was really our gain, 
for it was owing to his ill health he was unable 
to partake in doughty deeds. If he had been 
able-bodied he would have acted them, and not 
sat at home and imagined them on paper, for us 
as well as for himself. Out of his weakness 
came his strength, or, as one said of him, 'it 
seems probable that the writer would have been 
lost had the man been dowered with better 
health.' Perhaps his father's gloominess was an 
efficient warning to him to cultivate a Mark 
Tapley jollity of spirits, whatever ill cards For- 
tune dealt him. He early observed when Mr. 
Stevenson encountered some comparative mole- 
hill in his path and was oppressed with fore- 
bodings, that these were dispelled by his mother's 
invincible determination to look only to the 
bright side of things. 

3S 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

A writer in a magazine of to-day has stated 
that Robert Louis Stevenson * was bored with 
his father's stories, which others enjoyed, and 
his father was a more lovable man than he in 
those days. His unpopularity may have been 
due to his being a bad listener.' I do not think 
this was the case, though I grant the father was 
a greater favourite than the son, w^ho, in his 
Edinburgh days, was not generally liked. I 
personally recollect that Louis seemed always 
ready to do his utmost in company to draw out 
Mr. Stevenson's quaint views or his pet stories. 
He listened with a sparkle of pleasure in his 
almond-shaped dark eyes, watching how his 
father's anecdotes struck the audience, and more 
anxious than the narrator for the merited ap- 
probation. Louis's own way of spinning a yarn 
was ludicrously different from his father's. Louis 
had a full flow of language, and he gesticulated 
freely with both hands while he talked and 
walked. He could recapitulate no narrative, 
propound no idea, without waving his thin hands 
about, shrugging his shoulders absurdly like some 
typical stage Frenchman. His father spoke in 
a measured, calm voice, sitting slightly bent 
forward, with his broad-browed, square-featured, 
unmistakably Scotch face lit up at seasonable 

39 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

times by a flicker of fun. He would presence an 
immovable solemnity of appearance while depict- 
ing some humorous incident, and not till it was 
finished and appreciated by his auditors did the 
corners of his firmly set mouth relax into a 
smile. 

Mr. Stevenson, with his wife and son, formed 
a united trio. They had, besides the bonds of 
affection that closely bound them, many tastes 
in common, and a host of jests, a shibboleth of 
nonsense which the engineer enjoyed as a re- 
laxation from his work and its worries. * How 
vivid is the remembrance of the happy home in 
Heriot Row ! the kindly, clever head of the 
house ; the bright, pleasant wife and mother ; 
and the fragile, imaginative boy, who was after- 
wards to become so famous,' says a writer in 
Chambers's Journal who evidently knew the trio 
I speak of well. * We used to wonder how any 
two of the three could exist if the third were 
called away, each seemed so necessary^ to all.' 

Wlien death, for the second time, made a gap 
in the circle in December 1894, the announce- 
ment in the obituary column of the Scotsman 
described Robert Louis Stevenson, not as the 
man of letters the world deplored, but simply 
as ' the only son of the late Thomas Stevenson, 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

C.E.* To many in his native Edinburgh he was 
known as that ' only son,' whose future seemed 
all too doubtful in the olden days, when he 
completed the trio round his father's hearth. 
If he lived (and that was the foremost and 
biggest doubt), in the well-known adage of his 
Northern land, where they sup their broth with 
home-made cutlery, he seemed more likely ' to 
mar a horn ' than ' mak' a spune.' 

Mrs. Stevenson and her son had often to flee 
South on health pilgrimages, and leave the en- 
gineer alone in the chilly North. He longed to 
hear daily how they fared. The two invalids had 
a difficulty in varying the bulletins, and they 
liked variety. No letter had come from Tor- 
quay, so Mr. Stevenson telegraphed for news. 
* Queen Anne's dead,' wired Louis, by his 
mother's suggestion, in reply. The telegram 
gave the anxious, lonely man a terrible shock, 
and he strongly reprimanded the levity of the 
senders. The two unrepentant culprits often 
jokingly reminded him of the stern letter they 
received, and how for the rest of that winter 
they were reduced to platitudes on the weather 
or the beauty of their resting-place. Then to 
defend himself Mr. Stevenson explained what a 
shock Queen Anne's death had given him that 

41 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

day, and drew a pathetic picture of himself, a 
solitary man, opening the orange envelope and, 
owing to a mist of anxiety which dimmed his 
sight, seeing only two words, ' Dead. — Louis.' 

The head of the house at Heriot Row died in 
May 1887, and a volume Louis brought out at 
that time bore the beautiful dedication : — 

To MY Mother, 

IN THE 

Name of Past Joy and Present Sorrow, 

I Dedicate 

These Memories and Portraits. 

On a copy of these ' honey-dropping essays * 
he wrote a few lines in Samoa : — 

' Much of my soul is here interred, 

My very past and mind, 
Who listens nearly to the printed word 
May hear the heart behind.' 

Thomas Stevenson was honoured as well as 
loved by his only son all through his life. Louis 
knew well that, if his father seemed hard in his 
censure, his wounds, like those of a friend, were 
faithful ones. W^en he realized the responsi- 
bility with which a conscientious man like his 
father regarded the duty of bringing his son up 
in the way he believed he should go, he under- 
42 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

stood him all the better, and regretted he had 
made his task the harder by resenting his legiti- 
mate authority. In the Silverado Squatters Louis 
speaks of a ' brother Scot ' who drove him about, 
and was, he says, ' as kind to me as if I were 
his son ; even more so, for the son has faults too 
keenly felt, while the abstract countr>'man is per- 
fect like a whiff of peats.' 

The father and son had a long dispute over 
the latter's choice of a profession ; but when the 
son became a master craftsman no one paid him 
a surer compliment than did the father, who fain 
would have seen him an engineer, the sixth who 
had ser\'ed the Board of Northern Lights. Mr. 
Stevenson was a believer in Lord Lytton's theory 
that * more is got from one book on which the 
thought settles for a definite end in knowledge 
than from libraries skimmed over by wander- 
ing eyes. A cottage garden gives honey to the 
bee, a king's garden none to the butterfly.' 
Louis tells us his father's three favourite authors 
were Lactantius, Vossius, and Cardinal Bona. 
' The first he must have read for twenty years 
uninterruptedly, keeping it near him in his study, 
and carr>^ing it in his bag on journeys. Another 
old theologian. Brown of Wamphray, was often 
in his hands. \Mien he was indisposed he had 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

two books, Guy Mannering and The Parent's 
Assistant, of which he never wearied.' To these 
select few Thomas Stevenson added two more. 
They lay on a small table in his dining-room, 
and were known by his family as * his luncheon 
bibles.' After breakfast he gathered his house- 
hold for * worship,' and for this purpose a big 
volume of the Book stood handy. After his 
midday meal he liked a printed page to ponder 
over. His two favourite luncheon bibles became 
An hiland Voyage and the Travels with a Donkey. 

\Mien he wandered with his son in print in 
the Cevennes, he also longed to have an argu- 
ment with the soldier and the priest at the Lady 
of the Snows who would have led to Rome 
Thomas Stevenson, his wife, and their family. 
Honest man ! how he thirsted to have his say 
and defend his Presbyterianism. Wlien they 
suggested to Louis that if he would turn Catholic 
he would convert his parents in time, he ex- 
claimed, ' I think I see my father's face ! I 
would rather tackle the Gaetulian lion in his den 
than embark on such an enterprise against the 
family theologian.' 

Many a tough battle, many a wordy war, they 
had, but they both enjoyed such skirmishes. 
Louis freely confesses he liked ' an adversary 

44 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

who will hold his ground foot by foot and give 
us full measure of the dust and exertion of battle.' 
Mr. Stevenson thought much over religion and 
believed much. He was a resolute Presbyterian, 
a man of strong convictions, but capable of de- 
fending them. Louis had been well grounded in 
the tenets of the Scottish Church. ' About the 
very cradle there goes a hum of metaphysical 
divinity. I do not wish to make an idol of the 
Shorter Catechism, but the fact of such a ques- 
tion as, " What is the chief end of man ? " being 
asked, and answering nobly if obscurely, " To 
glorify God and to enjoy Him for ever," opens 
to us Scotch a great field of speculation ; and 
the fact that it is asked of all of us, from the 
peer to the ploughboy, binds us more nearly 
together.' 

As he grew up Louis developed very unortho- 
dox, almost atheistical views, going, as youth 
goes when given to convulsions of thought, to 
the far extreme from his upbringing. He also 
revelled in blazoning abroad his newly acquired 
views. He judged his father and every one 
who did not agree with him as bigoted. He did 
not realize that he himself was strongly tinctured 
with the short-sighted, overbearing intolerance of 
youthful inexperience. 

'1? 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

Speaking of Ferguson, the poet, who died in 
his * acute painful youth ' in an Edinburgh mad- 
house, Louis contrasts, in a letter lately pub- 
Hshed, their mutual weakness and misunderstood 
sufferings when both were rebellious, headstrong 
young men. ' Ah ! what bonds we have. Bom 
in the same city, both sickly, both vicious, both 
pestered — one nearly to madness and one to the 
madhouse — with a damnatory creed, both seeing 
the stars and the moon and wearing shoe leather 
on the same ancient stones, under the same 
pends, down the same closes where our common 
ancestors clashed in their armour rusty or bright.' 

Louis was less pestered than pestering with 
the damnatory creed he speaks of. He liked to 
heckle his father on his strict doctrines, while he 
aired his recently acquired ones. Mr. Stevenson 
replied gravely and earnestly, and, all things 
considered, was wonderfully patient with the 
positive, aggressive boy. * To grow a little 
Catholic is the compensation of years ; youth 
is one-eyed,' Louis owned ; and if he had lived 
longer, or if his father and he had met again 
after Louis left Edinburgh, they might have 
found they were not so diverse in doctrine. 

Louis Stevenson improved with years. The 
volcanic convulsions of his insurgent days past, 

46 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

he mellowed in character, widened in under- 
standing, and harked back more to the content- 
ment and happy-hearted goodness which made 
him lovable as a small child. When he shook so 
violently at the bars of circumstance, and re- 
volted against religion and society, it was no 
wonder he was not popular in Edinburgh, for 
he was then lacking in many of the better 
qualities which endeared him later to the whole 
world. According to descriptions of him in his 
latter days at Samoa he seemed to have studied 
God's Book more in the reverent manner it was 
studied and read under his father's roof. 

Mr. Stevenson and his only son in the teeth 
of their hot discussions and mutual heartaches 
were to the last firm friends and comrades. 
Thomas Stevenson, like his father before him, 
was full of ' unfeigned, unstained, unwearied 
human kindliness.' He was reticent with the 
reticence of the Scot during his life. Anything 
out of the ordinary groove which might be con- 
strued into a wish to attract notice was repug- 
nant to him ; but he desired before the grave 
in the Dean Cemetery closed over him that there 
should be read to a few chosen friends his firm 
behef in ' that sure and certain hope,' so that 
they who truly loved and mourned him would 

47 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON 

have his posthumous message impressed on their 
minds that it might be to them a stay in time 
of need. 

* 17, Heriot Row, Edinburgh. 

* May I be allowed to say very humbly — God 
knows how humbly — that, believing in Christ, I 
confidently trust I shall not be disowned by Him 
when the last trumpet shall sound. 

* My good friends ! I hope our friendship is 
not ended, but only for a time interrupted, and 
that we may all meet again in that better land 
which has been prepared for us by our Father 
and our Saviour, the blessed passport to which 
has been freely offered to all. Amen. 

' Thomas Stevenson. 

* This I desire to be read at my funeral.* 



MRS. STEVENSON 



49 



It is not yours, O mother, to complain, 

Not, mother, yours to weep, 
Though never more your son again 

Shall to your bosom creep, 
Though never more again you watch 

Your baby sleep.' 

— UmUrwoods. 



CHAPTER III 

MRS. STEVENSON 

Louis's mother, as we have seen, was a daughter 
of the manse. Her old home at CoHnton, ' a 
well-beloved house, its image dwelt on by many 
travellers,* is now altered. To casual observ^ers, 
looking on a picture of it as it was in Mrs. 
Stevenson's time, it seems much the same as of 
yore. Casual obser\'ers, however, did not know 
every door, window, and weather-beaten mark 
on its friendly face, the place of every tree and 
flower in its garden. The manse drinks deep 
of the blessings of shelter. It lies in a cul-de-sac 
at the very depth of a wooded basin, * brimmed 
like a cup with sunshine.' Straight in front, 
separated only from its base by the dusky Water 
of Leith, rises a wooded cliff fringed with firs, 
a cliff so inaccessibly steep that it is a marvel 
how such tall trees found root on its perpendicular 
and sliding soil. They look as if they would 
topple into the manse chimneys, but tier on tier 
firmly they climb on, till they reach the top of 

51 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

the well-clothed bluff, and the crows, then as 
now, caw hoarsely over this sheltered hollow. 
Behind the manse, and cutting it off from the 
road (Louis speaks of their phaeton coming to 
the kitchen door, * for such was our unlordly 
fashion '), stands the church. Robert Louis 
Stevenson observed of the manse, with the river 
lapping its garden, the graveyard on the westerly 
side looking down on it, that * it is difficult to 
suppose it was healthful.' In those pre-hygienic 
times people throve under conditions which to 
us appear suicidally insanitary. 

An ever-increasing circle of villas, boasting, 
like upstarts, of the superiority of their high and 
salubrious site, look down on the old manse to- 
day, from the airy rim of that once secluded 
den, now a suburb of Edinburgh. Trains run 
through the dell ' where spunkies danced,* as 
Louis believed, taking the residents of the mush- 
room villas to and from Edinburgh, a few miles 
off. Miss Balfour, the * Auntie ' of Louis's 
Garden of Verses — 

' Chief of our aunts — not only I 
But all your dozen of nurslings cry, 
What did the other children do? 
And what were childhood wanting you?' — 

remembers how little they thought of that inter- 

52 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

vening four miles ; how they returned from their 
walk to town, recollecting a forgotten errand, set 
off again to Auld Reekie. Miss Balfour, kept 
young by her practical interest in all the succes- 
sive families of nephews and nieces she has 
mothered, speaks enviously of the ease with 
which her grand-nieces spin on cycles over the 
ground. * You would have enjoyed one when 
you were young,' said a visitor. * I 'd enjoy 
one now,' she replied, for neither deafness nor 
failing sight has quelled the sprightly spirit 
of her race. Mrs. Stevenson, fond of her 
early home, like all who were reared in that 
green-lined nest, loved to take her boy back 
to Colinton, little dreaming the old manse would 
be portrayed so vividly by the small hand 
she held. 

She was married in 1848, and when she left 
her father's roof for Howard Place, if the old 
proverb speaks true, she need not have given 
much thought to her trousseau, ' for a bonnie 
bride is soon buskit.' All those who recollect 
her then, speak of her fair looks — looks which 
lasted to the end of her sixty-eight years ; for, 
besides her clear-cut features, her cultured mind, 
her genial address, gave her a perennial beauty 
of expression that outlived the bloom of youth. 

53 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

Her buoyancy of spirit, her complacent serenity 
in regard to the inevitable, her pleased content- 
ment with her environments — all these Louis 
learned from her. Mrs. Stevenson was twenty 
years her son's senior, and it amused and flattered 
them both that, when going out to dinner 
together, the serv'ant, judging him to be too 
young to be married, turned a deaf ear to the 
names they gave, and announced them as Mr. 
and Miss Stevenson. 

There is extant a chalk drawing of Mrs. Steven- 
son when about twenty-five, and one of Louis 
done at the same time. He has stiff, old-maidish 
ringlets, which must have given Cummy much 
trouble to fix in such sleek order. They are so 
rigid as to suggest being supported in their 
position by hairpins. These unnatural curls 
were shortly afterwards shorn. Mr. Stevenson 
took advantage of Cummy's being off on a holi- 
day to subject Smoutie's ladylike locks to the 
barber's mercy. Cummy has them now among 
her keepsakes ; ver>^ fine yellow hair it is, not 
yet darkened to correspond with his oriental 
eyes and complexion. The chalk drawing of 
Mrs. Stevenson represents her, as Louis remem- 
bered her so well, when she chaperoned him to 
children's parties. He proudly boasted that no 

54 



EDINBUKGH DAYS 

child had so pretty a mother as he. When he 
was a man he recalled how others had heavy, 
serious mothers ' who sat and looked on,' while 
his mother was so girlishly graceful and so light- 
heartedly bUthe that no juvenile guest enjoyed 
herself with more zest than she. From this 
picture her refined face smiles down on one. 
Her smooth hair is braided over her ears in the 
mid-Victorian style, making a softening frame 
to her regular features. It is exactly the same 
face. we in Edinburgh, who knew her till so 
recently, loved. Mrs. Stevenson always im- 
pressed one as being richly dressed, though no 
one could say, when asked, what she wore, so 
invariably quiet and ladylike was her taste. 
Certainly from neither of his parents did Louis 
take his bizarre fancy for garish colour and 
fashion in dress. 

Mrs. Stevenson's pliableness of temperament 
was never more clearly shown than in the way 
she cast off civilization, in spite of her love for 
everything that was correctly comfortable, and 
set off to follow her migrator>^ son among un- 
couth surroundings in distant lands. She went 
stockingless and clothed in easy garments, and 
lived that primitive life as if to the manner 
bom. She heartily enjoyed the roughing of it, 

55 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

though the opportunity of basking in the sun- 
shine of her son's presence first induced her to 
leave the comforts of civiUzation. Looking over 
the photographs of these South Sea joumeyings, 
Mrs. Stevenson appeared always decorously 
attired in her widow's cap, retaining even there 
her spruce trigness, her hair as usual smoothly 
dressed, when others had flower-entwined heads 
and flowing, unkempt locks. ' Whenever I saw 
the camera come to the fore,' she explained, 
smiling, * I seized my cap out of the basket 
where I kept it ready, and "preened my feathers." 
I tucked in my feet, though I never went quite 
barefoot like the others, for I was terrified of 
stepping on some beast. I never could walk 
without shoes, but of course I wore no stockings, 
except when I went to church. They laughed 
at me, but, however warm, I always put them on 
for service.* 

Mrs. Stevenson transplanted herself and all 
her old home furniture out to Vailima, meaning 
to settle there for her life, never dreaming, as 
she said, * to weep the eyes that should have 
wept for me,' but, she added in the same letter, 
with that unselfish resignation, that determina- 
tion to see good in everything, ' His dear eyes 
have been saved these tears, and / must be glad 

56 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

joY thai' In his own words she could truly say, 
and comfort herself therewith — 

' O stricken heart, remember, O remember. 
How of human days he lived the better part.' 

Frail in health, as Louis had ever been, it was 
more than probable he might be one of those 
creaking doors which are said to hang longest. 
Mrs. Stevenson herself had suffered from the 
inclement winds of Edinburgh. Her father, in 
his youth, had sought for health in the Isle of 
Wight, and his grandson, after trying both 
hemispheres, enviously adds, ' whereas he found 
it and kept it, I am still on the quest.' 

Two of Dr. Lewis Balfour's children were ail- 
some in youth, and it appeared unlikely they 
would resist the effects of the deeply-buried 
situation of the manse and its overshadowing 
graveyard. Yet they grew up and went out 
into the world like the others reared there, and 
surv'ive to-day, hale and hearty, having passed 
useful lives in the thick of our too maligned 
Edinburgh climate. Louis, when grown-up, 
often tempted providence by outlandish expedi- 
tions, unnecessary buffetings with weather, and 
want of proper comfort. After settling finally 
in what he thought salubrious Samoa, the Hghts 
of his life, which had * been a little turned down,' 

57 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

had flared up astonishingly strong again, and it 
was beHeved the author had found an El Dorado, 
where his health would, as his years advanced, 
increase in strength. 

Mrs. Stevenson came back twice to this country 
from the enervating softness of her son's island 
retreat to recruit and see her sister, and finally in 
1891 took herself and all the endeared belongings 
of her married home to Samoa. 

The familiar furnishings of Heriot Row sailed 
to the South, where they remain. They were for 
ever associated with her husband and boy ; 
how often had they watched him when, as he 
recorded — 

* With my little gun, I crawl 
All in the dark along the wall, 
And follow round the forest track 
Away behind the sofa back.' 

Mrs. Stevenson fully expected to end her life 
with her boy at Vailima. His improved health 
gave every hope for years of useful work before 
him. His mother never believed he would 
achieve the * fine success ' he craved for in her 
lifetime. Louis always hoped that his end 
would be speedy when his time came. ' If only 
I could secure a violent death, what a fine 
success\ * he writes. * I wish to die in my boots ; 

53 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

no more Land of Counterpane for me. To be 
drowned, to be shot, to be thrown from a horse, 
aye, to be hanged, rather than pass again through 
that slow dissolution.' 

Victor Hugo likens an overwhelming blow to a 
Waterloo, a slow decay a St. Helena. The 3rd 
December, 1894, was a Waterloo to the VaiUma 
household. On none did it fall heavier than on 
his mother, who had known and loved him long- 
est, who was now a widow and childless, and who 
had lost a son of whom she had the right to be 
proud, for she had been the first to foresee the 
honoured position he would attain to by his pen. 
She returned to Edinburgh immediately after 
his death, to the one tie she had left there. Miss 
Balfour, her elder sister, who had mothered her 
in her schooldays. Miss Balfour needed her, 
so Mrs. Stevenson settled down in Edinburgh, 
choosing for her new home a house which over- 
hung the valley of the Leith. At first her old 
friends were afraid to see her, for fear the trials 
she had encountered since she had left them 
would have left defacing scars upon her and her 
wound be still too painful to look on. But she 
came back and took her former place with un- 
flinching bravery, and the one theme she specially 
Uked to hear others broach, or to enlarge on 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

herself, was Louis. Appreciation of him was 
balm to her wounds. She had his photographs 
around her, and from Samoa had brought back 
one link with Heriot Row, a striking likeness of 
her husband, by Sir George Reid, now to be seen 
in the Edinburgh National Portrait Gallery. 
That supple nature of hers allowed her to take 
her place once more in an orthodox Edinburgh 
drawing-room, and it was hard to realize that 
she, sitting there in her faultless widow's attire, 
darning daintily with her capable hands, had 
gone about stockingless, ridden through forest 
paths, and sat at feasts with the Samoan chiefs. 
She said she might return some time to visit that 
grave on the mountain top where she had seen 
her son laid. She had always taken an interest 
too in foreign missions, and she had a longing 
to work for her Church among the Samoans. So 
quietly and quickly did she resettle in the North, 
one almost forgot she had ever been away in 
such untamed parts. Mrs. Stevenson had a 
spirit of enterprise in her, a liking to subject 
herself to experiences, an inquisitiveness as to 
novelties, and Louis inherited this thirst to taste 
of the unknown. Mrs. Stevenson never lost her 
taste for exploring a terra incognita. In the last 
September she was among us, being in the 
60 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

country she expressed a wish to get on a cycle 
to try how it felt, and write to those left at 
Vailima and tell them what she thought of it. 
There was a wheel put at her disposal christened 
Dobbin, in the hopes that sedate name would 
incline it to steadiness. Lithe of figure, straight 
as an arrow, undeterred by her sixty-seven years, 
Mrs. Stevenson vaulted on the iron horse with 
ease, and displayed an instinctive idea of balance. 
She said she knew she had an inborn notion of 
equilibrium from the way she had kept her seat 
all untutored as an equestrian on a flesh and 
blood horse in Samoa. Not contented only to 
mount Dobbin, she, barely supported by an 
anxious teacher, sent him gaily along the road 
on which he had borne many wobbling beginners. 
None, however, managed him better than this 
agile, well-balanced sexagenarian rider in mantle 
and bonnet, garments which she said befitted 
her years, but were hampering for this exercise. 
The second day she careered on Dobbin down 
a hill, steering well to the middle of the road 
and going at a pace which left her attendant in 
the rear. * If people would not think it ridicu- 
lous of me, I think I would take to cycling,' she 
said when an upward slope brought her journey 
to a triumphant finish. * It is delightful. I 

6i 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

envy people I see from my windows at Randolph 
Cliff whirling across the Dean Bridge.' 

That same September she visited a lighthouse 
on a great foreland which was one of her hus- 
band's beacons. The keepers received her cor- 
dially. They showed her Thomas Stevenson's 
unsurpassed inventions and his signature on 
their books. They asked her for her autograph, 
and expressed their gratification in having seen 
the wife of one 

' Who early and late in the windy ocean toiled 
To plant a star for seamen,' 

and his son proudly boasted, — 

' These are thy works, O father, these thy crown. 
Whether on high the air be pure, they shine 
Along the yellowing sunset, and all night 
Among the unnumbered stars of God they shine.' 

Mrs. Stevenson quoting these lines among the 
sounds of winds and wings and solitary cries, 
observed it was pleasing to her to be honoured 
and welcomed as Thomas Stevenson's wife ; * for 
of late years,' she said, * I have become so 
accustomed to be known only as R. L. S.'s 
mother.* She reminded us, too, of an incident 
Louis refers to in his sketch of his father ; how 
a friend of his was asked in South America if 
* he knew Mr. Stevenson, the author, because 
62 



EDINBURGH DATS 

his works were much esteemed in Peru. He sup- 
posed the reference was to the writer of tales ; 
but the Peruvian had never heard of Dr. Jek>^l, 
what he had in his eye, what w^as esteemed in 
Peru, were the volumes of the engineer.' 

Mrs. Stevenson, clever and cultured as she 
was, never wished for any distinctive career of 
her own. To her it was acceptable to be known 
either as the wife of Thomas Stevenson (to whom 
the Germans gave the title of * the Nestor of 
lighthouse illumination ') or the mother of Robert 
Louis Stevenson. Finding herself reverenced as 
the parent of a distinguished son when she went 
to visit Lx)uis at Skerr^^vore, his Bournemouth 
home, she was told that the Shelleys had been 
attracted to him, and Louis had been given by 
Sir Percy a portrait of Mary Wollstonecraft ; 
and Mrs. Stevenson heard how Sir Percy thought 
her son was mentally like his father, and that 
the poet's spirit lived again in R. L. S. This 
portrait our Tusitala was to look on as that of 
a spiritual ancestress, from whom he inherited 
a pedigree of genius ; and it hung at Vailima 
among Stevenson family portraits of the engin- 
eers. Mrs. Stevenson told us, hearing Lady 
Shelley had called and was alone, she glancing 
at herself in a glass to see there was no hair awr\% 

63 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON^S 

went smiling into the room, ready, she said, to 
be adored as the mother of the man her visitor 
and Sir Percy flattered and praised. But, when 
she introduced herself, Lady Shelley rose indig- 
nantly and turned from her proffered hand. She 
accused Mrs. Stevenson of having robbed her of 
a son, for she held Louis should have been sent 
to her, that he was the poet's grandson ; but by 
some perv^erse trickery, of which she judged Mrs. 
Stevenson guilty, this descendant of Percy Bysshe 
had come to a house in Howard Place, Edinburgh, 
instead of hers at Boscombe Manor. A some- 
what parallel case happened to Dr. Johnson on 
his travels ; for Lady Eglintoune found, says 
Boswell, that she ' was married the year before 
Dr. Johnson was born, upon which she graciously 
said to him that she might have been his mother 
and that she now adopted him, and when we 
were going away she embraced him saying, " My 
dear son, farewell." ' Lady Eglintoune, like Lady 
Shelley, adopted a ' might have been son.' Louis 
Stevenson himself beheved he had fallen heir to 
Robert Ferguson's unhappy poetic soul ; while 
Lady Shelley, according to Mrs. Stevenson, was 
firmly convinced that she had been defrauded 
of a son, and never abated in her animosity 
towards her for this robbery. This, said Mrs. 
64 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

Stevenson, was the only time any one fell foul 
of her for having given to the world the popular 
author. 

Mrs. Stevenson had early guessed in what 
direction lay her Louis's road to fame. She 
fostered his love of writing, and was, with 
Cummy, the first of his devoted readers. Even 
if he had never grown famous, to hear her in 
her latter years speak of ' Little Lew ' would 
have drawn listeners about her, for she had the 
art of telling a simple tale with pathos and 
humour, which impressed it on her hearers. 
Her unceasing interest in everything connected 
with him, her every thought given so wholly 
to him, made her hsteners in her drawing-room, 
looking adown the valley, realize how great was 
her love. She, so * austerely led,' was never 
seen otherwise than ' well content.' If people 
marv^elled at her heartsome blitheness of spirit, 
she with her serene felicity replied she had small 
cause to repine with a happy record of married 
life to dwell on, and having been gifted with a 
son whose genius she was the first to appreciate, 
whose distinguished position in the world of 
letters was her glory and comfort. In acknow- 
ledging a photograph of the plain-faced Httle 
house in Howard Place, she wrote : * How I wish 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

I was back in it forty-five years ago ! Well, I 
had a long time of happiness. I have many 
precious memories left, and I feel that I have 
much cause for thankfulness, but still my heart 
cries out for '' my boy." ' Grief never wrung 
an audible complaint from her. It was her un- 
selfishness which enabled her to face her sorrow 
and the interest she took in the weal or woe of 
all around her. To the world, to the sister she 
tended, she turned a serene, placid face. 

She had treasured up all her recollections of 
Louis from his babyhood. She had kept all news- 
paper cuttings about him from the days when his 
youthful efforts first appeared in print. She had 
his six-year-old dictated MS., an essay on Moses, 
and his privately printed little booklets, now so 
sought after by collectors. Shirley speaks of 
strolling one long, light evening from his Hermit- 
age of Braid with Principal Tulloch across to 
Swanston and getting there a volume in which 
Robert Louis Stevenson's ' juvenile contributions 
to local journals had been carefully put together 
and preserved. We read them next morning — 
the Principal in his bedroom before breakfast, as 
was his way — and we then agreed that, what- 
ever came of it, here was a fresh voice with 
a note delicate and unborrowed as the lark's, 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

Hardly any one but his mother guessed as yet 
what was in store ; but she was prescient, as 
mothers are.* Among many who visited her for 
her son's sake came Mr. Barrie, when she was 
home from Samoa, one winter. He was anxious 
for her to meet his mother, and Mrs. Stevenson 
regretted she had not taken the journey to 
Thrums. Mrs. Stevenson was much amused 
at the way in which he tried to tempt her to find 
time to go. If Mrs. Barrie in her loyalty to her 
own son bore Robert Louis Stevenson a grudge, 
why, Mrs. Stevenson asked, would she care to 
see her ? 

' She would like,' answered Mr. Barrie, ' to tell 
you how I came through the whooping cough, 
and ask you if your son had any dregs from the 
measles.' 

How interesting it would have been to have 
had a photograph of these two mothers dis- 
cussing their sons, their books, or their infantine 
ailments ! If Mrs. Stevenson and she had met, 
it is to be hoped Mrs. Stevenson would have 
walked in unawares and caught Mrs. Barrie by 
the hearth w^e know and perchance sitting with 
that unholy fascinating knave, Ballantrae. Her 
piercing but kindly eyes would have scrutinized 

the handsomely dressed mother of the man whom 

67 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

she feared would have wiled her devoted lad away 
from her to his tropic retreat. It would have 
defied Margaret Ogilvy's penetrating observ^ation 
to have found a fault with her guest's appearance. 
However blowy the day, there would not have 
been one hair astray, or however dusty not a 
speck of travel-stain on her fine black dress. 
Mrs. Stevenson was always immaculately trim 
in her attire. Mrs. Barrie would have found the 
whilom daughter of the manse, with that ready 
address of hers, eager to listen to Thrums tales, 
of honours to a Thnims man, or to a Thrums 
boy's precocity. Mrs. Stevenson would have 
envied her hostess having * her boy ' there, and 
doubtless Mrs. Barrie with her quick intuition 
would have found the Road to that Loving Heart 
by her sympathy for the mother who loved be- 
yond compare the ' only son ' granted to her, and 
who mourned him with a Spartan cheerfulness. 
Mrs. Stevenson read with an understanding smile 
of Mrs. Barrie's jealous aversion, her gradual 
capitulation to R. L. S.'s seductive writing, 
and she deplored too late, with Margaret Ogilvy 
in her hand, that she had not journeyed to 
Thrums. 

Mrs. Stevenson's absorbing pride in her son 
was as transparent as her husband's succouring 

68 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

lights which flash out, dazzling in their con- 
centrated strength. Abnormal as it was, there 
was no vaingloriousness in it, only pure prideful 
pleasure undimmed by any small selfish conceits. 
Whether she was fonder of the author as the new 
master of romance, the subtle supple stylist, or 
her boy, * Little Lew,' it is hard to say. Often 
and often she heard, as she sat in * peaceful 
turret pent,' not the applause of the many who 
loved his tales, but his pattering footsteps. Even 
in remembrance that was sweetest music to her. 
She obeyed his injunctions as she had obeyed 
his slightest desire she could gratify in life. 

'You too, my mother, read my rhymes 

For love of unforgotten times, 
And you may chance tx) hear once more 
The little feet along the floor.' 

Mrs. Stevenson, when she returned finally to 
Edinburgh from Samoa — 

'For 
It brooks wi' nae denial. 

That the dearest friends are the auldest friends. 
And the young are just on trial ' — 

liked to be of the audience at every lecture on 
Robert Louis Stevenson she saw advertised. 
There were many, for he had given to us a 
host of lifelong friends. To him we owe the 

69 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

acquaintanceship of honest Alan Breck and his 
companion Davie Balfour, of many a clever 
scoundrel and bold rascal, of Archie Weir and 
his ' owre true ' father ; and lastly, that dashing 
dare-devil St. Ives, who took us over the Castle 
Rock and led us to further intimate acquaintance 
with Swanston. Then, besides numerous friends 
on paper, he gave us these essays full of living 
words arranged with that felicitous grace of 
expression of which he was the consummate 
master. * Folk come here speirin' about young 
Stevenson sin' he is deid,' said the present 
gardener at Swanston, speaking of pilgrim 
Stevensonians who bother him with questions ; 
for Thackeray, with his cognizance of human 
nature, says truly, * We all want to know details 
regarding men who have achieved famous feats, 
whether of war or wit, or eloquence or know- 
ledge.' Sometimes illustrating these lectures on 
Tusitala there were limelight views, and one 
felt, as Mrs. Stevenson saw before her on the 
screen a well-known scene, and heard quoted — 

* I gang nae mair where ance I gaed, 
By Brunston, Fairmilehead or Braid, 
But far frae Kirk and Tron ' — 

it must have been a stab anew for her to realize 
that, no longer a willing exile in a palmy isle, he 
70 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

lived so that across the waste of waters he would 
send his voice, and end the verse : — 

' O still ayont the muckle sea, 
Still are ye dear, and dear to me, 
Auld Reekie still and on.' 

Others felt a lump in their throats when they 
remembered that he had lain him down with a 
will. There was no hope now that, some day 
when a breath of the North came to him, he 
might be tempted to come home. No more 
letters, no more books of his could come across 
the globe to us. The blank was difficult to 
realize, but all the while his mother sat critical 
and intent, apparently unruffled by any emotion 
but her pleasure in hearing her son's praises sung, 
his death lamented. 

The Stevenson Memorial meeting was a gala 
day to her. She started for the Music Hall 
not too early, feeling secure of a seat with a 
' reserve ticket ' in her neatly gloved hand. 
When some one asked if she were going on the 
platform, she replied emphatically in the nega- 
tive. She had early Victorian ideas as to plat- 
forms being proper only for the sterner sex. She 
wished to be an unnoticed unit in the audience. 
The crowd was beyond expectations. Mrs. 
Stevenson arrived to find every passage blocked, 

71 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

and a surging mass at the main entrance clamour- 
ing for admittance. She feared that she, with 
them, would be turned away ; but, as a forlorn 
hope, she appealed to a policeman to get her in. 

' It 's nae use, it 's fu',' he said ; ' reserve seats 
ta'en an hour ago by folks that had nae tuckets, 
and they would na gang out.' 

' I must get in,' cried Mrs. Stevenson, roused 
out of her usual calm by despair. ' I 've a right 
to get in. I am Robert Louis Stevenson's 
mother.' 

* Aye, you 've the best right,' the policeman 
replied, and, turning to the crowd, cried, ' Mak' 
way there. She maun get in. She 's Roabert 
Louis's mither.' 

People who thought themselves packed too 
tightly to move somehow packed closer, and let 
Mrs. Stevenson squeeze and wriggle past. 

Breathless, hustled, and, for once, her mantle 
and bonnet a Httle awry, much against her will 
the crowd pushed her on to the platform. There 
she hastened to so literal a back seat that when 
Lord Rosebery, to add to his tactful compli- 
ment to her in the four telling words, ' his 
mother is here,' with which he wellnigh began 
his speech, looked around to bow with courtly 
deference to her, he had to pause (and the pause 

72 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

was vety effective), and to quietly engage other 
eyes as well as his own to find to which side 
Robert Louis's mother had unobtrusively with- 
drawn. 

Mrs. Stevenson was all aglow with the enthusi- 
astic fulness of that meeting. She was visibly 
overcome by the unexpectedly large crowd and 
its tremendous enthusiasm. For once her usual 
calm left her. 

' A proud day for her to have a son a mitred 
bishop,' writes Louis in Our Lady of the Snows, 
of one who by ' special grace, against usual 
ordinance,' was able to witness the crowning of 
her child. ' It makes one glad they let her in,' 
he adds sympathetically. A proud day was 
December 9th, 1896 (two years after her Water- 
loo), to iMrs. Stevenson, and she was thankful 
for the ' special grace ' even in the shape of the 
policeman who ushered her in to see her son, 
like a prophet, for long without honour in his own 
country, receive the homage of his native town. 

A few months later, with Louis's name last on 
her lips, after a short struggle with pneumonia, 
she died. She was laid beside her husband in 
the Dean Cemetery, that beautiful burial ground 
in the west of Edinburgh. From it, secluded by 
trees from the city, the great castle is seen 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON 

towering majestically, and round it, deep down 
a bosky bank, the Water of Leith winds. That 
humble brown stream lilted a lullaby, in very 
truth a cradle song, to Mrs. Stevenson at the old 
manse. It made lasting music in the memory 
of her only son, who lies afar in that strange 
mountain grave with the surf booming an in- 
cessant requiem at its feet. He yearned to rest 
among the good Scots clods with familiar stars, 
true never-failing Northern lights, and the historic 
hills of home keeping watch over him. 

Perhaps the best, nay, the only explanation 
of Mrs. Stevenson's uncomplaining front in the 
face of her sorrow, when bereft of that brilliant 
idolized son, is to be found in the Heriot Row 
Bible she gave to an Edinburgh church. On a 
leaf of it, in Mr. Stevenson's hand, is the date 
of his marriage. Then, again, in it he wrote 
the date of the birth of Robert Lewis Balfour, 
their son. She added to it in her writing the 
record of her husband's death, and then, when 
a widow and childless, that of ' her boy,' their 
only son. After that last date, she added, from 
Psalm xxxix. 9, the words which gave the key 
of her cheerful, silent fortitude when so bitterly 
acquainted with grief—* I was dumb, I opened 
not my mouth ; because Thou didst it.' 

74 



ALISON CUNNINGHAM 



75 



' For all you pitied, all you bore 
In sad and happy days of yore, 
My second mother, my first wife, 
The angel of my infant life.' 
—The Dedication to the * Garden of Verses. 



CHAPTER IV 

ALISON CUNNINGHAM 

Another guardian of Louis's childhood was 
Alison Cunningham. The day which brought 
them together when he was eighteen months 
old is worthy of a red-letter record in Louis's 
calendar. Many a child has had as devoted a 
nurse as young Louis, but no nurse from her 
nursling had ever so deftly worded or so widely 
known a tribute to her care as Alison Cunning- 
ham received in the dedication of the Garden of 
Verses. He remembered, when he penned these 
lines, the ' long nights you lay awake and watched 
for my unworthy sake * ; he knew then that his 
second mother would have followed him across 
the world, to nurse him as of yore, when he lay 
ill. The letter she wrote volunteering to go to 
her laddie he held in his clasp, as if to feel again 
the touch of that ' comfortable hand ' which 
had soothed away his childhood's sufferings. 
She well deserved the pretty tribute that her 
boy thus paid her in remembrance of all the 

77 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

pains she comforted. She gave her whole heart 
and energies to her charge. To her, as well as 
to his mother, he owed his happy disposition. 
He was never thwarted or denied anything that 
could add to his happiness. Never a complain- 
ing word escaped his nurse's lips, and he grew 
up surrounded by the love of his two mothers. 
Kept for such long spells in the house, he was 
more dependent than most on a kindly, patient 
ruler in the nursery. Night and day the child 
had to be watched and amused. His active 
brain supplied an endless series of questions, 
and he never rested till they were answered. 
Cummy had enjoyed a solid education such as 
falls to most of her kind if they have the good 
fortune to be born Scots. She came of a family 
of fair worldly means and position. She belonged 
to the good old days when domestic service was 
not scorned as menial, when it was considered a 
more fitting and honoured calling than service 
behind a counter. Cummy's education was not 
wasted. WTien she and Smout, as he said, spent 

* Happy chimney-corner days. 
Sitting safe in nursery nooks 
Reading picture story books,' 

it was a trained as well as a ' kind voice ' that 
read to him with ease and expression. No one 
78 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

enjoyed the works he aftenvards gave to the 
world more than the nurse who with his mother, 
on the nursery floor, taught the wee lad to find, 
from out of the chaos of letters, C for Cummy 
or crooked S for Stevenson. 

* Cummy,' as she had been promptly christened 
by her small charge, was reared at Torrybum, 
a village even to-day out of the reach of trains 
and placidly stranded on the north bank of the 
Firth of Forth, whose waters lap up to its very 
doors. It is a village of white houses, red roofs, 
crow-stepped gables basking lazily in the sun. 
Torr}-burn, along with some other of these west 
of Fife boroughs, was of more importance when 
the king sat in Dunfermline town. The smaller 
ships of bygone times sailed up the unbridged 
Firth to unload their cargoes at wharves snug 
under the bield of wooded bluffs. 

This west nook of the Kingdom of Fife, facing 
the sun and protected from the hard winds, is to- 
day still a green, sleepy hollow, lulled to rest 
by the curfew, which still tolls nightly from 
Culross steeple. Cummy grew up in this place, 
rich with traditions of its past glories, and full 
of the history and legends of her native land. 
At her father's hearth she heard the old-time 
tales of the smuggling days, and all the local 

79 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

narratives of the resurrectionist times. Close to 
the water's edge, along the fringes of Fife, were 
many graveyards easy of access to those who 
plied their ghastly trade. The people, knowing 
how corpses had been stolen from their resting- 
place, lived then in dread of their dead being 
molested. Nevertheless, for all their watchful- 
ness many a boat went off with its gruesome 
cargo. It was for this reason that Cummy's 
mother, dying in 1870, ordered she should not 
be buried among her people in Torr>'burn 
kirk^^ard, but in a town cemetery, where 
such desecration was impossible. We may be 
sure in good time young Louis knew all the 
stories, true or traditionary, that Cummy had 
to tell. 

She had learned all she could be taught at 
Torry^burn, where a relative of Cummy's, a Miss 
Drummond, combined dressmaking and school- 
keeping. Miss Drummond helped her sisters to 
shape the lasting linsey-woolsey of the day into 
fashionable gowns ; and while she plied her 
needle or trimmed a tippet, she heard her pupils 
recite. It is true that, on the ' Burial of Sir 
John Moore,' perhaps owing to her absorption 
in her sewing, or a dimness of sight, which took 
in the look of a word and not its exact meaning, 

§9 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

Sir John, at Torryburn, was buried with his 
material cloak around him. In these dame 
schools, however, even if they read * material ' 
for * martial,' the scholars laid a firm foundation 
of learning. Alison was a promising pupil, and 
her parents, to give a finish to her education, 
sent her off to Dunfermline, four or five miles 
distant. Alison had to live there in the darkest 
winter days with some relatives, but she pre- 
ferred Torryburn, and at week ends she returned 
home, walking at the tail of the carrier's cart 
for company. She made light of the distance in 
summer, and walked gladly to and fro. Even 
now she is spare and active, though deafness has 
shut her off from the world of voices. Mrs. 
Stevenson and Cummy used to tell little Lew, 
when he began his school-going, that his lines 
had fallen in easy times. His guardians had had 
to rise in the dark and walk eight or ten miles 
daily for their lessons. 

Alison Cunningham never swerved in her 
allegiance to her tender, ailing boy. In 1870 
Louis wrote a dissertation on Nurses, in which he 
draws a sad (all the sadder because it is true) 
picture of a nurse neglected by her nursling 
when he grew up, — she was left alone after 
having given ' her best and happiest years in 
F 81 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

tending, watching, and learning to love like a 
mother this child, with which she has no con- 
nection, and to which she has no tie. Perhaps 
she refused some sweetheart (such things have 
been), or put him off and off, until he lost heart 
and turned to some one else, all for fear of leaving 
this creature that had wound itself about her 
heart.' He goes on to picture the Testament 
she bought for her boy out of her poorly provided 
purse, thrown aside, and how, maybe, he passed 
her in the street, ashamed to recognise the old 
woman that loved him. Louis as a youth of 
twenty-one had noted how many of his friends' 
old nurses were treated, but his had no reason 
to complain. Her boy to the last did not forget 
her, always * rememberful ' whenever he had a 
new book of his own to give her. * Mothers,' 
Louis wrote at the end of Nurses, * can be brought 
to feel more tenderly to those who share their 
toil and have no part in the reward.' Cummy 
had full share of her ' reward ' — a word her boy 
objected to. ' The world must return some day 
to the word duty and be done with the word 
reward. There are no rewards and plenty of 
duties,' he said. To tend him was to her a labour 
of love, and consideration and attention from his 
parents and himself was the result of duty done 
82 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

with a heart-whole devotedness. I heard Mrs. 
Stevenson say that one day, when driving from 
Cummy's home, she had complained to Louis 
that she had never had a printed tribute Hke 
Cummy's. She reminded him that she too had 
taken more than her share of the anxious night 
watches, and been as conscientious and adoring 
a mother when he was Smoutie as when he 
was R. L. S. the favoured author ; but Louis 
explained that her maternal love and self-sacrifice 
went without saying, whereas Cummy's services 
were bought. He considered she more than de- 
served any laurels that he could lay on her brows. 
In her case there was duty well done and also 
a rich reward. 

Cummy has a house on the south side of 
Edinburgh, a cemetery, she says, in front of her 
and a madhouse behind her, but her sunny par- 
lour, Hke her heart, is full of mementoes of Robert 
Louis Stevenson. Mrs. Stevenson lately gave 
her an album with a series of views of places and 
people connected with their boy. Below each 
photograph his mother had written a descriptive 
quotation from his own works. There is Swan- 
ston in its ' bouquet of trees * ; there is a portrait 
of him as he played at Colinton as 'Little 
Smoutie at the manse.* Cummy likes to sit by 

83 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

visitors as they turn over the leaves, and look 
at the various pictures of that family trio with 
whom she spent her best days. Her own portrait 
is there, taken some years ago, and a quotation 
from the Gardeyi of Verses written by her mistress 
below it. She was pleased, but shook a protest- 
ing head, when an American visitor told her she 
was like Mrs. Stevenson. But there was truth 
in it. Alison's face is furrowed. She had not 
the calm, smooth look and dignity of Mrs. 
Stevenson, but her features are neatly chiselled 
and of a refined type, like her mistress's. The 
tears dim her eyes as she comes to the last page, 
where, among the tangle of the rankly prolific 
vegetation of the tropics, stands Louis's grave. 
He had looked at that spot from his study window 
at Vailima, and wrote of it * as my tomb which 
is to be,' regretting, while he praises its lavish 
Southern beaut>% that it was not to be his fate 
' to be buried in the hills under the heather, and 
a table tombstone like the martyrs, where the 
whaups and plovers are cpy'ing. My heart 
remembers how ? Ah, by God it does ! ' 
Cummy has not that control over her feelings 
which made many marvel at Mrs. Stevenson's 
seeming placidness when speaking of her sorrow. 

Cummy's eyes well over as she points to a piece 
84 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

of moss, which Mrs. Stevenson brought her from 
that sacred spot. To be buried far from Scot- 
land and kin seems a terrible thing to Cummy, 
and she Hngers sadly over this last photo before 
she lays the book down beside other keepsakes. 
The child's mimic tea set stands on Cummy's 
table. His aunt, Miss Balfour, gave it to him, 
and that it still survives tells how girlishly gentle 
* little Smoutie ' was. It has a tea-pot, cream- 
jug, and sugar-bowl of Queen Anne shape, and 
three cups on the tray, a dainty set all beflowered 
with tiny pink roses. The cups hold * just a 
thimbleful,' and many a one did his two mothers 
drink at his tea parties, he playing various char- 
acters in his rdle as host. 

The walls are covered with pictures. Cummy 
prizes one of Mentone, sent her and signed by 
Robert Louis Stevenson. Mrs. Stevenson, 
Cummy, and he had been there on a health 
pilgrimage. It was Mrs. Stevenson who was 
the invalid that winter. Leeches had been 
ordered for her, and unawares, with others, a 
horse one had been used, and had acted as a 
vampire. Cummy tells how, uneasy about her 
mistress, she stole down to her room at midnight 
and found her strength far spent. For once Lew 
was neglected. He wakened and found no 

85 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

Cummy to assure him, nor did she come at his 
call. Cummy had promptly flung the impostor 
leech into a fiery grave, rung for help, and 
despatched a messenger hot-foot to fetch the 
doctor. Lew, she said, bawled loudly for his 
nurse, but she on this one occasion let him bawl, 
for she feared that his mother was going to slip 
away from them. Mr. Stevenson returned next 
day from London, and, ' Honest man,' says 
Cummy, ' he was fair put about, and as soon as 
Mrs. Stevenson was in a fit state he packed 
Lew and she and I off for eight months to 
France.' Louis, on a visit to Mentone many 
years after, sent this photograph back to Cummy. 
' She will say,' he wrote, ' it 's no my Mentone, 
I ken by the biggin o't ' ; for houses had sprung 
up where nurse and child had strolled hand in 
hand. 

There is, in Cummy's parlour, a faded, old- 
fashioned carte-de-visite album, pushed a little in 
the background because of its shabby binding. 
It is a mine of reminiscences. It has a series of 
photographs of Louis from babyhood, and it is 
w^orth while to sit by Cummy and turn the worn 
pages and Hsten to her comments as we scrutinize 
the well-known face. The first is as an infant 
on his mother's knee. He has laughed and not 

86 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

kept his head still while hilarious, and it is 
blurred. All the same, in spite of cheeks bulg- 
ing with fatness, there is a likeness to the Robert 
Louis Stevenson we knew, the wide-apart eyes 
very bright and dark, and a certain sly, humor- 
ous expression funny to see on the podgy baby 
when we remember it in the lean-cheeked man. 
Cummy likes the next photograph of him at 
twenty months old (Mrs. Stevenson dated them 
all in her exact way), for it was done after she 
had found her life's work and been his nurse two 
months. He is chubby cheeked, but his arms — 
which, after the dangerous practice of that time, 
are bare — are wanting in flesh. His fat hands 
are clasped, and his sleek hair is smoothed over 
his big brow as he gazes with earnest eyes, with 
a consequential gravity, rather incongruous in 
a white-frocked, be-sashed, plump-faced chit. 
Again at four he is taken, twice in one day. In 
these two portraits he is dressed in very girlish 
fashion, for in those days youths were not im- 
mediately plunged into sailor suits. He is 
wearing a hat which at first gives one the 
impression that the child standing on the chair 
in the full-skirted robe must be a lassie, for it 
is ostrich-plumed and mushroom-shaped and 
tied under his chin — the comfortable style of 

87 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

hat the Queen patronizes. Altogether he is a 
refreshingly quaint figure. He is dressed in a 
blue merino pelisse trimmed with grey astrachan, 
and an Eastern scarf with the Indian pine upon 
it keeps his throat warm. ' This pelisse,' Cummy 
says, pausing as she scrutinizes the picture, ' was 
made of a remnant.' She mentions the shop 
which w^as selling off when the bargain was 
offered. It is a name which is in part extinct — 
one partner's name still lives in a huge block of 
building in Princes Street. To Cummy, in the 
face of its Whiteley-like proportions, it is still 
the shop where Lew's blue merino was bought. 
She is, however, rather indignant that such a 
bairn should be dressed in a remnant, however 
excellent the stuff. ' Mrs. Stevenson always 
bought the best, and made things last,' she said. 
^ I 've seen her myself in a dress I knew was 
years old looking better dressed than anybody, 
for everything she had was thorough to the 
linings.' Evidently cloth of gold was what 
Cummy would have robed him in if she had had 
her way. She did not think his father's pet 
name, Smout, was fitting for her boy, and she 
tells how, when ladies asked him what he was 
called, the little rascal would look up with mis- 
chief in his face and answer ' Smoutie.' ' Like 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

a name for a dog,' his admirers said indignantly, 
' only a dog might be Princie, and a little Prince 
you are.' Cummy quite agreed with this, but 
Mr. Stevenson stuck to his original Smout. The 
blue merino, remnant or not, she owns suited 
her Prince well, and from under his hat he 
glances up with the amused gleam that lights 
up his face in his baby photograph. A com- 
patriot in years who knew him as a schoolboy 
and wrote of him so graphically in Temple Bar, 
describes this expression which from first to last 
was often on his face, yet impossible to catch on 
canvas and difficult even for the quick camera : 
' About the mouth and in the mirthful mocking 
light of the eyes there lingered ever a ready 
Autolycus roguery, that suggested sly Hermes 
masquerading as a mortal. The eyes were 
always genial, however gaily the lights danced 
in them ; but about the mouth there was some- 
thing a little tricksy and mocking, as if a spirit 
that had already peeped behind the scenes of 
life's pageant and more than guessed its un- 
realities.' 

The same day that he was immortahzed in his 
girlish headgear he was taken without this com- 
fortable, queenly hat. The fun in this second 
photograph has died out of his face, the joke 

89 



ROBERT LOUIS STEV^ENSON'S 

he was sniggling over had exploded. He is 
staring at the no longer diverting photographer, 
chubby, but serious. The next in the gallery 
was taken when he was six and had begun to 
shoot up into a lank boy. His hair is cropped 
to a man-like shortness. Cummy needed no 
longer to try and coax his fair locks into a curl 
on his forehead, as was then the fashion. His 
hair was fine for a boy and sleek, always lying 
close to his head, for it was the hair belonging 
to a delicate constitution, damp with the dews 
of ill-health, and fell, when he wore it irrationally 
long for a man, in limp locks, giving him a 
dishevelled look. In this picture, like most 
photographs done in the fifties, he is leaning on 
a table. There is a reproving seriousness in his 
face ; no droll conceit had crossed his mind to 
bring to light that arch expression twice before 
caught by the camera. His hands have lost 
their baby podginess, and are nervous, long- 
fingered. He has a whip in his grasp, which 
falls slackly down as if toys were not in his 
line, and he looks pensively ahead. Cummy 
explains he is in a green poplin tunic, trimmed 
with velvet. Miss Balfour says it is not green 
poplin, and the velvet was scariet ; but whatever 
its colour, it is a tasteful, old-fashioned dress, 



90 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

finished at the neck by a frill of madeira work, 
which is fastened under the chin by a big 
w^omanish bow. Cummy goes over every detail 
with lingering fondness. She draws attention to 
its good style. This time it is made of no 
remnant, it is cut from a pattern blouse, and 
was his party frock for a winter, and its chicness 
of sleeve was specially admired. He has boots 
on and white stockings, which need bracing up, 
for they wrinkle over the fleshless legs. * See 
his bit breekies,' says Cummy, pointing to those 
obsolete garments of white cotton appearing 
below the short tunic. * That is tatting on them. 
It was in his mother's trousseau, and real fine 
tatting too.' 

In all these photographs of his first years we 
can see the child is decidedly the father of the 
man, and we can trace from the earliest one the 
face of the famed author. The eyes are land- 
marks which even the disguising pufiiness of 
youth cannot hide. In this album he seems to 
emerge suddenly out of party frocks and white 
stockings and tatting-trimmed * bit breekies * 
into commonplace tweeds. Cummy is no longer 
mistress of the robes to his majesty King Louis. 
Her fingers can only fashion him manly shirts 
and knit his stockings. There is an honesty 

91 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

about these schoolboy photographs which is 
assurance of truth. There is no touching up, 
no flattering of plain facts in them. In each he 
looks gloomily thoughtful, almost sulky, or, as 
the language of the North alone can describe it, 
* dour.' Perhaps he was not captivated with the 
camera as of yore, when his two mothers dressed 
him in all his bravery, or the chairs he sat on 
may have been too conventional, and the steady- 
ing prong which held his head immovable, 
annoying ; for none of them is there a ghost 
of the quizzical speculation which ever and 
anon shone out of his eyes and lurked round 
his mouth. There is a brooding glumness in 
them all, which was unlike his future nature. 
Maybe he already felt he had to brave these 
equinoctial gales of youth, before he settled 
into the groove for which he instinctively felt 
he was best fitted. 

There are other photographs of him on 
Cummy's wall, cabinet size, which would not 
fit the now out-of-date carte album. He is 
there bewigged as Robert Louis Stevenson, 
advocate, and there is the suspicion of a playful 
dupHcity in the would-be wisdom-framed face. 
There is a profile of him fresh from the Inland 
Voyage, a pleasant reminiscence for those who 

92 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

knew him at that time. His velvet coat and 
flannel shirt with Byronic collar certainly look 
better on paper than they did among his better- 
clothed Edinburgh comrades. He has more the 
look of his mother in this vignette than in any 
other, except that in which, having ' solved the 
great mystery,' he is lying at rest under his 
nation's flag in the hall at Vailima, with his 
trusty Samoan ser\^ant watching by his dead 
master like some faithful dog. The first profile 
was taken when he was in the heyday of such 
strength as was accorded to him, and in both 
the well-defined nose, the oval face recall Mrs. 
Stevenson. Yet in another photograph this 
* lad o' pairts ' seems to be a Stevenson, and a 
very sullen one. He is standing by his father, 
a boy of thirteen or so, one hand resting on the 
good man's broad shoulder, the other tucked into 
his pocket ; an angular boy, wanting in that 
naturalness of pose which mark his photographs 
when a child. Mr. Stevenson's Skye, a doormat 
of a terrier such as Leech drew for Ptinch,^ is 
curled up beside him. The engineer is sitting 
with that reliable look of his in his firm face, 
his head turned at the angle and his gaze fixed 
on the same object as the thin boy's. The fore- 
heads and the wide-apart eyes of father and son 

93 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

are singularly alike, but Mr. Stevenson's mouth 
is resolute yet tender, and below it is a deter- 
mined chin, while Louis has an undecided fulness 
about the lips and has lowered his head so that 
he looks almost chinless. * All our other features 
are made for us, but a man makes his own 
mouth,' writes Oliver Wendell Holmes. Louis's 
mouth in all these schoolboy photographs is un- 
formed. When he merged into a velveteen 
jacket and odd attire, a subtle, incredulous smile 
settled on his lips, full of interrogative wonder- 
ment. 

There was little likeness between father and 
son when the latter grew up, but that photograph 
of Mr. Stevenson and Smoutie just caught an 
affinity of look. Mr. Stevenson, broad of build, 
square-faced, ruddy-coloured, with the strong 
yet lenient compassionate lines about his firm- 
shut mouth, seemed to have no relationship 
with the ill-thriven, wan-faced, narrow-chested 
stripling, and Louis never, even when beyond 
his twenties, looked more than a boy in his 
teens. 

Cummy points out with doubled interest the 
photographs of her laddie her mistress loved the 
best. Mrs. Stevenson, with a mother's instinc- 
tive pride, fancied those which made him appear 

94 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

strongest and straightest. Because of its emaci- 
ated look she disliked even the photograph of one 
of the too few portraits done of him from Ufe. 
The artist, Signor Nerli, while globe-trotting 
visited Samoa, because he wished to see the 
author who had made the coral-built island into 
a peopled garden by his creative presence. The 
eyes in this portrait are good. They have the 
droll light in them which has a suspicion of 
satirical amusement. He looks as if he were 
taking a farcical survey of life, as if he agreed 
with Horace Walpole, ' If the angels have any 
fun in them, how we must divert them ! ' The 
travesty of life when he thought over it gave 
him often this almost cynical questioning expres- 
sion. In this portrait, which he sat for when 
very weary, there is a limp listlessness sad to see, 
but painfully real. Often when looking spare 
and fagged, but never complaining, this droop 
of delicacy was terribly apparent. There is too 
much of a sneer about the mouth. The ' tricksy 
mocking ' expression Mr. Baildon mentions exactly 
describes this doubting, incredulous look. Still 
it is a good likeness, and many who knew Robert 
Louis Stevenson in his Edinburgh days remarked 
how it recalled him to their minds. The best 
likeness of Louis, in my opinion, is in the Edin- 

95 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

burgh Edition, volume xxi., * from an original 
kindly furnished by Mr. John S. Sargent, A.R.A., 
a platinotype enlargement from a roughly printed 
little amateur photograph taken by Mr. Llo^'d 
Osboume in 1885.' The long oval face is there 
full front, and he is looking up with those 
strangely wide-set eyes of his, as if pausing a 
moment in thoughtful doubt, pen in hand, 
before he jots down for us some craftily worded 
obser^-ation, the very prospect of which is bring- 
ing a smile to his lips. The interrogatory but 
satisfied and bright look in the eyes is altogether 
life-like. There is a good likeness of him in the 
frontispiece of Vail Una Letters, etched by W. 
Strang, after a photograph by Falk of Sydney, 
but to my thinking the eyes in it are too round. 
Louis had eyes peculiar in form. They were 
long, Japanese, almond-shaped. People who 
have been laughing sometimes half-shut their 
eyes, and Louis's gave one the impression of 
eyes half-closed and beaming with fun from 
their depths. * The old pythoness ' he speaks 
of, who told him his fortune, stopped in her 
soothsaying, and looking at him exclaimed, 
' Black eyes ! ' This, he said, was not true, but 
they were so dark as to be easily classed as 

black. They were never sad, always radiant and 

96 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

genial, as if brimful of life and sunshine. Judg- 
ing by the numerous photographs of him, begin- 
ning from babyhood, he was constantly before 
the camera's recording eye, though he seldom 
sat to be immortalized on canvas. 

Besides photographs of him in abundance in 
Cummy's room, there is a line of his books 
shoulder to shoulder on her shelf.^ She has a 
book-case at the end of her parlour, where many 
volumes ousted from drawing-room favour, when 
their outward gayness faded, and others given 
her at Christmas, have now retired. Those on 
the topmost shelf were all given to her by the 
author, beginning with what Mrs. Stevenson used 
to call her eldest grandson, namely a copy of 
An Inland Voyage. In Cummy's copy, written 
in a clear hand on its ribbed pages, is a private 
foreword in prose of what was to appear later in 
the Garden of Verses, 

' My dear Cummy, — 

* If you had not taken so much trouble with 
me all the days of my childhood, this little book 
would never have been written. Many a long 
night you sat up with me when I was ill. I wish 
I could hope, by way of return, to amuse a single 

» Some of these she lately parted with. 
O 97 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

evening for you with my little book ! But what- 
ever you may think of it, I know you will con- 
tinue to think kindly of 

' The Author.' 

Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes comes 
next — ' To Alison Cunningham, from the 
Author.' The Garden of Verses has its envied 
dedication in print, but on her own copy is 
' Alison Cunningham, Bournemouth, 1885, 
R. L. S.' Others follow. Kidnapped, Under- 
woods, etc., all to Cummy from ' her boy, the 
Author,' or ' her laddie, R. L. S.' None have so 
precisely written an inscription as An Inland 
Voyage. Like an only child or a first-born, 
overweening care had been bestowed upon it, 
and Louis's writing there is a model of prim 
exactness. 

Last on the row comes the posthumous Weir 
of Hermiston, and on its title-page, in Mrs. 
Stevenson's writing, is ' To AHson Cunningham, 
in memoriam, Robert Louis Stevenson, from his 
mother.' Every one of his books sent by him- 
self, Cummy had. She lent them to friends, 
and, as is too often the fate with loaned books, 
she lost them. Over these volumes, these photo- 
graphs, some old letters, his baby caps worked 

98 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

by his mother, Mrs. Stevenson and she used to 
gloat with full hearts, Cummy's eyes glistening 
with tears, Mrs. Stevenson composed and cheer- 
ful. Cummy has letters her mistress wrote to 
her when she went back for her holidays or to 
nurse some of her sick kin at Torr>^burn. Mrs. 
Stevenson was a faithful amanuensis. She wrote 
down all Louis's babble, all his messages to 
Cummy, while, like the guinea fowls he was 
likened to later, he kept crying perpetually, 
' Come back, come back.' He knew by her 
word pictures (for Cummy, like her mistress, has 
the art of sketching people and scenes) every 
one at Torrybum — a place he longed to visit 
with his ' Comely Cummy,' as he called her. 
At the end of one letter he signs himself, * Your 
loving Robert Louis Stevenson,' but fearing this 
then seldom used title sounded stiff and estranged, 
he ordered his mother between the ' loving ' and 
his baptismal name to insert ' little son,' know- 
ing these two short words would insure his 
adopted mother's return. She has his hair in 
an envelope beside these letters written from 
Howard Place, and many stray memorials of her 
laddie. A little red velvet Testament he gave 
his mother on her birthday lies on Cummy's 
table. He had borrowed two shillings from 

99 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

Cummy for its purchase, and together they chose 
it in gay scarlet and gold binding. Cummy 
wrote his inscription in it, and for many a year 
' Little Lew's Mamma * used it. 

Cummy still wears crape on her dress for her 
nursling — not ornamental sorrow, for his mother 
and she wore their hearts upon their sleeves, and 
he who ran might read engraven thereon the 
name of their mutual little son Louis. This 
crape Cummy will now never remove. She told 
her mistress, on the last visit she paid her, that 
she had worn it over two years for her son. 
* Don't take it off, Cummy,' replied his mother, 
touching it gently. Cummy has a hospitable 
fashion of coming to the door to speed a part- 
ing guest, watching them along the street, ready 
to give an answering wave if they turn ; but 
when her old mistress, grown by reason of long 
acquaintance with a mutual love and mutual 
sorrow into her best beloved confidante, came to 
leave, Cummy always accompanied her to the 
tramway car, loath to part with the friend of 
forty-four years' standing. Mrs. Stevenson kissed 
Cummy's sad, perturbed face, bade her go home 
and not catch cold, and Alison Cunningham 
stood looking lingeringly after her, till she turned 
and kissed her hand and waved to her a re- 

100 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

assuring farewell from the tramcar step. She 
was always ' wae ' when her mistress left, but 
that day little thought she would not meet her 
again. Cummy enviously thinks of her meet- 
ing with her laddie, but, drying her tears, she 
smilingly adds, ' It 's not for long we '11 be parted 
now.' 



toi 



INFANT DAYS 



ICX3 



' The course of our education is answered best by these poems 
and romances where we breathe a magnanimous atmosphere 
of thought and meet generous and pious characters.' 

— Books which have Influenced Me. 



104 



CHAPTER V 

INFANT DAYS 

Louis Stevenson may well be considered a 
fortunate boy with his judicious father and 
mother and that other ' angel of his infant life 
who made his childish days rejoice.' He was 
hedged round by love and care. He had always, 
at least, one of his two mothers to entertain 
him or to be an eager listener to all the queer 
questions and thoughts which so throbbed in 
his brain. His guardians had many tales to 
tell of their charge. He held despotic sway, 
they firmly believed their king could do no 
wrong, but from all facts gleaned he must have 
been a well-behaved, seldom a troublesome little 
chap. 

If he had not been gifted with health, he had 
an inheritance which helped to balance the loss — 
contentment. Sweet content and a zest in life 
helped him thoroughly to appreciate the nursery 
clime, even though he had to spend long months 
in the Land of Counterpane. Weary months 

105 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

they would have been to many, but looking back 
on them with those searching eyes of his he could 
truly call them * pleasant.' The cheerfulness and 
patience of his two mothers flooded the dawn of 
his life with sunshine, and the remembrance of 
these palmy days was ever delectable to him, for 
as Sydney Smith says, * If you make children 
happy, you will make them happy twenty years 
after by the memory of it.* 

One of his earliest recorded desires was to 
write. Wlien a petticoated boy, between three 
and four, he slid his hand into his nurse's, 
signalled to her to lock the door, put his finger 
to his lips to enjoin secrecy, and then whispered 
as loud as a stage conspirator, * I 've got a story 
to tell, Cummy — you write it.' * He just 
havered,' says Cummy, smiling at the recollec- 
tion of the young author, whose eyes glowed so 
darkly in contrast with his then childishly yellow 
hair. Cummy entered sympathetically into the 
conspiracy, and with barred doors the maker of 
tales dictated. * I wrote down every word he 
told me,' says his amanuensis. * It pleased the 
bairn, and when he was asleep I read his havers 
to his mamma by the nursery fire.' These in- 
fantile productions were all destroyed, but at six 
he wrote a history which still survives. His 

1 06 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

uncle, David Stevenson, offered a prize, open to 
all the junior members of the family, for the 
best essay on Moses. Louis was all agog to 
compete. ' But I can't write,' he cried in sudden 
despair. ' You can dictate, and I will write,* 
said his mother ; * and not one word will be put 
down but what you say, just as I write letters 
for you.' The child, flushed with excitement, 
set to work on this his first real composition. 
These were the days when he wore the green 
poplin tunic, and a pretty scene it must have 
been, his fair young mother patiently waiting 
till he had shaped all his conception of Moses 
into sentences. To sit still was always foreign 
to his mercurial nature, and when but six he 
composed acting all the time the scenes and 
characters. He drew childishly funny illus- 
trations of the Israelites crossing the Red 
Sea, carrying very unwieldy portmanteaus, and 
smoking cigars of prodigious size. Despite the 
illustrations he did not win the prize. As a 
small boy his inclinations seemed to lean more 
towards drama than literature. He liked to see 
his puppets move. Paper puppets they were, but 
cut in human shape, and made to converse 
according to his fancy. A Penny Plain and 

Twopence Coloured tells of these ' kaleidoscopes 

107 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

of changing pictures ' he so enjoyed. His pen, 
like a wizard's wand, transports us to the en- 
chanted past, to that Golden Age and brings us 
within ken again of childhood's age of illusion. 

During one winter when he was house-bound 
he had a Stevenson cousin to bear him company. 
They started a game of ' islands.' Robert Louis's 
was ' Noseingdale,' Robert Alan's ' Encyclo- 
pedia.' Great doings there were in these lands. 
Foreign foes invaded them, and the islanders in 
turn attacked other kingdoms. The two Roberts 
vied with one another in inventing the most 
electrifying or grisly news, or finding the strangest 
monster on their property. R. L. Stevenson had 
in his cousin, R. A. M. Stevenson, one whose 
creative power bid fair to eclipse his own. So 
Louis had to cudgel his brains to keep Noseing- 
dale on a level with Encyclopedia. 

Regiments of soldiers, when an invasion was 
imminent, were dispatched by a friendly power 
to assist Encyclopedia, and passed on the way 
battalions bound for Noseingdale. Noah's Arks, 
which had been cashiered as childish, were ran- 
sacked and gave up antediluvian monsters to 
prey on the inhabitants. Balloons, long before 
St. Ives had to look on high for means of escape, 
rescued Robert Louis Stevenson's heroes from 

io8 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

bewildering dilemmas on his * supposed ' isle. 
WTien not actively engaged, round the nursery 
table, in making earthquakes or volcanoes shake 
the islands to their foundation or in repelling the 
assault of the numerous foes which warred against 
them, the boys drew pictures of what went on 
on their sorely afflicted dreamland properties. 
Islands always had a fascination for Louis Steven- 
son. They were so handy for an ambush or a 
pillaging ground for pirates. It is a pity that 
a few copies of The Eyicyclopedia Budget or Nose- 
ingdale Daily News were not preserved. There 
was not a dull day spent by the rival islanders, 
for their rulers kept them in a red-hot ferment 
between subterranean upheavals, bloody battles, 
dragons, and revolutions requiring martial inter- 
ference. 

Indeed, to their creators and the creators' 
guardians they were Treasure Islands, for the in- 
calculable amusement they afforded was worth 
a mint of money w^hen chimney-comer days 
were the doctor's orders. This kindred spirit, 
Robert Alan, was the cousin alluded to who, 
when he grew up, developed the same objection 
to the strait waistcoat of convention as Louis did, 
and proved that the latter took his uncontrollable 

Bohemianism from the seemingly staid Steven- 

109 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

sons. They were well matched as boys, having 
both a rich gift of imagination. In Child Play 
Louis mentions how he used to bury his por- 
ridge under sugar and pretend it was a land 
smothered under snow, while Bob submerged his 
bicker of meal under milk, while they exchanged 
views as to how the blizzard or the inundation 
progressed. Such proceedings seasoned plain fare 
into an appetising banquet. 

Louis certainly had one great advantage in 
the springtime of his life ; for, to use his own 
expression, he had been ' young in youth.* 
When years had winged their flight, he could 
recall every detail of his childish play, and not 
only that, but so indelibly was it engraved on 
his tenacious memory, so dexterous his pen, 
that he was able to wake in his readers the long- 
forgotten charm, the queer imaginings of their 
nursery days. While Cummy or his mother read, 
he always pranced about, for he marvelled how 
his elders could calmly sit and retail adventures. 
He had to make the chairs into heroes, the coal- 
box into a castle which held the captives, the 
table into an enchanted island which was reached 
in an inverted stool, the rocking-chair into the 
horse which galloped madly with him to bear 
news of battle. He had always to enact a fight, 

no 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

with a pillow for his adversary, or storm a sup- 
posed citadel, and personally lead the van. 
When he stood breathless brushing his hair 
back from his overheated brow, Cummy looked 
anxiously on her agitated laddie and begged of 
him to * Sit down and bide quiet for a bittie.' 
She would rack her brains to find some story not 
needing much action on the part of the hero, or 
coax him to knit a garter which he remembered 
grimed with the age it attained while growing 
under his 'prentice hand. 

Some cousins of his have not forgotten how, 
when this only child came to play with them, 
his brain fomenting with unexpressed ideas, he 
at once set to work to utilize their nursery full 
of children, for to have other small people to 
make believe with was a fine chance of fun for 
him. He drilled them into opposing armies. He 
transformed them into pirates or moss-troopers, 
and from one pursuit to another his nimble im- 
agination flew, and he made them execute his 
designs while he staged his properties. He left 
his companions exhausted by the many parts 
they had played, while he yet saw possibilities 
for another live scenic display. He continued 
to expound his plot volubly, his ashen cheeks 
rosy, until he was waylaid by Cummy, who con- 

m 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

veyed the excited child home, dreading lest he 
should pay the penalty for this over-exertion by 
a sleepless night. 

WTien the last embers died from the sunset, 
if Louis were not in bed he peered into the 
wintry gloaming, waiting for the lamplighter. 
As Louis watched ' for the term of his twilight 
diligence,' when he had knocked ' another lumin- 
ous hole in the dusk,' like many another in the 
city he repeated the old doggerel jingle which 
helped the genius of the Lamp on his way, 
beginning — * Leerie, Leeric, light the lamp.' 
Louis, in the Garden of Verses, tells us he con- 
siders his father's house is happily situated, for 
he boasts he had ' a lamp before his door.' WTien 
that home light was lit the child rattled on the 
pane, or if he caught the man's eye kissed his 
hand to him. Louis went through paroxysms 
of apprehension for fear that the man of light 
would forget the white-faced watcher who longed 
to salute him, for he pathetically begs, — 

* And O ! before you hurry by with ladder and with 
light, 
O Leerie, see a little child and nod to him to-night ! ' 

Louis quickly learned to recite, and knew the 
metrical psalms and his Shorter Catechism sooner 

112 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

than most. He tells how he repeated ' I to the 
hills will lift mine eyes ' to his grandfather, 
hoping with one of those serio-comic aspirations 
of childhood that the good divine would award 
him an Indian picture on which his eyes had 
been covetously cast. Anything pronouncedly 
gay in colour fixed the attention of the boy, 
whose eyes dancing with light seemed to have 
absorbed the benediction of the sun. * Nothing 
was more unlikely than that my grandfather 
should strip himself of one of those pictures, 
love-gifts and reminders of his absent sons,* 
says Louis, recalling this scene. Something in 
the lad's demeanour touched his kinsman, and 
breaking through his usual reserve, he took the 
little fellow up and kissed him. It speaks well 
for young Louis's responsiveness of heart that, 
forgetting his disappointment about the gaudy- 
coloured picture, he was ' struck by this recep- 
tion into so tender a surprise that I forgot my 
disappointment.' 

The twenty-third Psalm gave him food for 
play, and he had his own localities in which to 
see and enact it. The pastures green he decided 
were some fields bordering a road near Howard 
Place, known as Puddocky. The Water of Leith 
running below a bridge forms a deep pool over- 

H 113 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

hung by some willows. Seagulls go there and 
float, on the hea\'y still days preceding a storm, 
white creamy dots on the chocolate-coloured 
water. There were sheep in those willow-fringed 
fields awaiting the butcher's knife. These were 
to Louis the flocks which the good shepherd 
tended. ' Death's dark vale ' for him was also 
on this road. It was a tunnel below a railway 
bridge, and has to be passed through before 
Warriston Cemetery is reached. Surrounded by 
graves, a few stunted pines like hearse plumes 
hiding the bank, the dank, drippy tunnel is 
rather a fearsome passage for children to face. 
Louis, however, with a tall rod in one hand and 
a crook-headed staff in the other, stepped boldly 
through this lugubrious entrance, but he liked, 
all the same, to hear Cummy's steps behind him. 
He rejoiced when he got out into the full light, 
and supported by the staff (Cummy carr>^ing the 
improvised rod till the return journey) he marched 
along * fearing none ill.' He played through life 
on the skirts of death. About the verge of the 
valley of the shadow his feeble steps seemed 
always to hover, but he looked down into the 
unfathomed depths smilingly and inquisitively. 
His rod and staff throughout his life was a 
readiness to meet his fate with lips and eyes 
"4 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

full of hopeful sunlight. In his last Evensong 
he says he understands — 

' So far have I been led, Lord, by Thy will ; 
So far I have followed, Lord, and wondered still. 

***** 
The night at Thy command comes. 
I will eat and sleep and will not question more.' 

* " Be good yourself, make others happy," was,' 
his mother said, writing those lines of his on a quilt, 
' the gospel according to Robert Louis Stevenson.' 

Along with the psalms Cummy drilled into 
him the Shorter Catechism. The questions and 
answers learned by rote remained firmly im- 
planted in his mind, as they do in that of every 
Scot who had learned it in youth. But Louis, 
meditative and inquisitive, must have puzzled 
his green brains over the meanings of these well- 
planned sentences he learned with parrot-like 
exactness. Cummy told me she read to him 
M'Cheyne ; * just bits he 'd understand, you 
know.' Her laddie mentions this M'Cheyne 
without much respect. He had evidently too 
much of this author on the strictly kept Sabbath, 
which he says made a * grim and serviceable 
pause in the tenor of Scotch boyhood days of 
great stillness and solitude for the rebellious 
mind, when in the dearth of books and play, 

"5 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

and in the intervals of studying the Shorter 
Catechism, the intellect and senses prey upon 
and test each other.' He preferred the Pilgrim's 
Progress and its woodcuts, and tales from Fox's 
Book of Martyrs, of those who were loyal to death 
to ' Christ's ain kirk and covenant.' Cummy 
thinks she read the Bible three or four times 
through to him before he could read, so with 
his keen memory- he must have started life 
mighty in the Scriptures. Some passages as a 
child fastened on his memor>\ The words, 
' The only son of his mother, and she was a 
widow,' he kept murmuring, var^'ing the intona- 
tions of pity he threw into his voice. Joseph 
and his brethren was a story^ he liked to re-tell, 
and Cummy writes : * With a very^ serious face 
he would repeat the stor>^ of the Shunammite 
in 2 Kings iv. The twenty-fourth verse he used 
to dwell on with great emphasis, especially the 
middle clause to end of verse.' The fifty-eighth 
of Isaiah, his nurse informed me, was * Lew's 
chapter ' ; and when he had acquired the mastery 
of print, he read it to her. ' I think I hear him 
yet,' she says. It was a curious chapter to fix a 
child's attention. There is, however, in the sixth, 
seventh, and eighth verses the rough outline of 
the ' gospel according to Robert Louis Stevenson,' 

1x6 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

as his mother said, or rather the gospel as prac- 
tised by him. Cummy tells how when, after his 
marriage, ' her laddie ' was spending a summer at 
Pitlochrie, he rushed out on a man who was 
unmercifully beating a dog. * It 's no yours, is 
it ? ' said the owner. * No, but it 's God's dog, 
and I won't have it beaten,' repHed Louis, remem- 
bering * the part he had chosen,' * to loose the 
bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, 
and to let the oppressed go free.' 

Certainly, between his two mothers and the 
family theologian, he was what in Scotland would 
have been called * weel brocht up,' which included 
a thorough grounding of Presbyterian precepts. 
Those who knew him in after years, kicking 
violently against the pricks of civilization, scoffing 
at the dogmatism in every creed, especially of the 
one he had been reared in, could hardly have 
pictured the strictness of his up-bringing. When 
he was far away from the old land, waves of re- 
collections of the teachings he received in his 
youth came surging over him. With Thackeray 
he could say : — 

* If in time of sacred youth 

We learned at home to love and pray, 
Pray Heaven that early Love and Truth 
May never wholly pass away.' 

117 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

His father we know preached a capital lay- 
man's sermon. His son preached a Christmas 
one, and with him example also went before 
precept. ' Kind deeds and words — that 's the 
true blue piety ; to hope the best, and do the 
best, and speak the best,' wrote Louis. Cheer- 
fulness was another doctrine he believed in. 
' Give us to go blithely on our business,* he 
prayed of a morning. * Help us to play the 
man ; help us to perform the petty round of 
irritating concerns and duties with laughter 
and kind faces ; let cheerfulness abound with 
industry.' 

The land of stor>'-books was to him in child- 
hood his favourite pleasure-ground. Through 
the sleepless nights, the days in bed, when he 
had his toys about him, and sent his leaden 
army marching among the bed-clothes, ' through 
the hills,* and his fleets ' all up and down among 
the sheets,' he liked to be read to. ' Cummy, 
read to me from the Bible,' he would order when 
he could not sleep, and Cummy obeyed, till rest 
came to him. In the morning when he awoke 
he would again issue his standing order : ' Read 
to me, Cummy.' His nurse, knowing well that 
his fears, with the shadows of night, had flown 
away, and the ' Old, old story ' would be laid 

Ii8 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

aside till he again traversed the ' uneven land,' 
would ask with well-pretended ignorance, ' WTiat 
chapter will I read to you, my laddie ? ' But 
his fears dispelled by the rising sun, Louis no 
longer a saint would be, and with the uncanting 
honesty of tender years, answered, ' Why, 
Cummy, it 's daylight now ; put away the 
Bible, and reach over for that new book of 
Ballantyne's.' He speaks of some of the magni- 
fied, often unspoken, fears of childhood. ' We 
no longer see the devil in the bed-curtains, nor 
lie awake to listen to the wind.' These are 
compensations for the shades of the prison- 
house closing in on him. Cared for as he was, 
bogles, darkness, the fears of traversing the north- 
west passage, terrified him— the highly-strung 
child, full of emotions. Cummy found him one 
night, when beset with fears, kneeling, praying 
for the Holy Ghost to come and comfort him, 
and finding his qualms not allayed, he bitterly 
complained that no ' peace of God ' came at his 
asking to soothe his fevered frame. He liked, 
as a child, the ' rare and welcome silence of the 
snows.' Cummy would Hft him up out of bed, 
and draw aside the bHnd to show him the world 
in white. 

But when the spring days came, his playground 

119 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

was oftener the manse garden than the nursery. 
His mother liked to see him running in the 
garden she had romped in, and showed him 
where to secrete himself, or hunted for him when 
he was a wee four-year-old hider in the French 
merino pelisse. He w^ould snicker with sup- 
pressed delight when Mrs. Stevenson and Cummy 
went peering about, and never saw the obviously 
hidden child till he rushed out at them, jubilant 
at his successful deception. * These days were 
like green spots in my memory,' says Cummy, 
thinking of him singing by the water door, * How 
far is it to Babylon ? ' Having transformed the 
garden into every conceivable land recorded in 
the atlas or fair>'-books, hob-nobbed with Bruce 
and Tell and Ali Baba, he and his two friends, 
after a thousand-mile gallop, for the finish of the 
day, at 

' Last drew rein — a weary three — 
Upon the lawn in time for tea, 
And from our steeds alighted down 
Before the gates of Babylon.' 

Mrs. Stevenson and Cummy going over these 
times, talking of Smoutie at the manse, remem- 
bered not the sad but only the happy days of 
yore, when they hoped little Lew was going to 
grow up well and strong. But whether he was 

I20 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

condemned to the Land of Counterpane, on 
chimney-corner days or garden days, he saw 
something bright in all. 

* The world is so full of a number of things, 
I am sure we should all be as happy as kings,' 

he sang. He was petted, not spoilt. He lived 
in a world of admiration, and he imagined every 
one, like his home circle, was his bounden slave. 
He liked playing chieftain in Samoa. He was 
lord of all he surveyed in Howard Place ; his 
words listened to, his whims pandered to. He 
was an uncommonly happy-natured, happy- 
starred small boy. 



121 



SCHOOLDAYS 



123 



' Give me again all that was there ; 
Give me the sun that shone ; 
Give me the eyes, give me the soul 
Give me the lad that's gone. 
♦ * ♦ ♦ 

Glory of youth glowed in his soul. 
Where is that glory now?' 

— Son^s of Travel. 



124 



CHAPTER VI 

SCHOOLDAYS 

Louis began his schooldays when he was eight. 
While still in tunics, more on account of a notion 
of his own than from any wish of the rulers of 
his infant days to push him on, he thirsted to go 
to school. He looked out of his window and saw 
the little lads and lasses trotting home from 
lessons, ver>^ purposeful in their gait, or romping 
and merr}\ He wistfully eyed them, begged to 
join their ranks, to run along with a satchel of 
books, or drive four-in-hand teams of cravat- 
harnessed fellow-scholars home before him. His 
entrance as a pupil at Mr. Henderson's prepara- 
tory school, which was then near to Louis's 
second home. No. i Inverleith Place, was delayed 
till he had grown out of his green popUn tunic, 
and both the Stevensons and Mr. Henderson 
had moved uphill nearer Princes Street. Louis 
had lived three years at Howard Place, and four 
at its opposite neighbour ; then 17 Heriot Row 
became his fixed Edinburgh abode. Shortly after 

125 



ROEERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

settling there he had an attack of gastric fever. 
There is an autobiographic gHmpse of this illness 
in one of his poems, * The Sick Child.' The 
fevered boy, tossing restlessly, begs assurance 
from his mother that the looming shapes seen 
by his delirious eye do not mean him ill. The 
mother, hiding her anxiety, explains to him the 
darkness will not harm him, for there are 

' Nothing but lamps the whole town through, 
And never a child awake but you.' 

How often then did Mrs. Stevenson gladly hail 
the first glimmer of dawn when her vigil ended. 
Knowing that soon the sun must shine blue on 
the window blind, she tells her son, — 

' Out in the city sounds begin ; 
Thank the kind God the carts come in ; 
Then shall my child go sweetly asleep, 
And dream of the birds and the hills of sheep.' 

In Nuits Blanches y an early paper, he again re- 
calls that weary time : * If any one should know 
the pleasure and pain of a sleepless night, it 
should be I. I remember, so long ago, the sickly 
child that woke from his few hours' slumber 
with the sweat of a nightmare on his brow, to 
lie awake, and listen, and long for the first signs 
of life among the silent streets. Over the black 

belt of the garden I saw the long line of Queen 
126 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

Street, with here and there a lighted window. 
How often my nurse lifted me out of bed and 
pointed them out to me, while we wondered 
together if, there also, there were children that 
could not sleep, and if these lighted oblongs were 
signs of those that waited, like us, for the morn- 
ing. It was my custom, as the hours dragged 
on, to repeat the question, " When will the carts 
come in ? " and repeat it again and again. The 
road before our house is a great thoroughfare for 
early carts. I know not, and I never have 
known, what they carry, whence they come, or 
whither they go. But I know that, long ere 
dawn and for hours together, they stream con- 
tinuously past. It was not for nothing they 
made the burthen of my wishes all night through. 
They were really the first throbbings of life, the 
harbingers of day. You can hear the carters 
cracking their whips and crying hoarsely to their 
horses, or to one another ; and sometimes even 
a peal of healthy, harsh, horse laughter comes 
up to you through the darkness. There is now 
an end to mystery and fear.' 

This illness withheld him from being enrolled 
as one of Mr. Henderson's pupils, but eventually 
he was strong enough, and like many another 

Edinburgh citizen, eminent to-day, he was well 

127 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

grounded there. India Street was very close to 
Heriot Row, but Louis's uncertain health kept 
him from continuous attendance. Near as this 
seminary for small boys and girls was to his 
doors, the regularity of the routine began to gall 
the young student before the corners of his 
multiplication card were well dog-eared, and the 
newness gone from his neatly covered primers. 
He never took a prominent place in his classes, 
or Cummy would have had an array of his prizes 
on her shelves to-day, arrayed beside a book 
Mrs. Stevenson won at school. Louis followed 
on his good father's lines, and studied only what 
he liked, worked only in his own way. Cummy 's 
constant Bible readings (and the long night 
watches gave ample time for such) must of them- 
selves have been a liberal education. Making 
his paper puppets act, inventing deedful days on 
Noseingdale, and having stories read to him, 
filled up his winter schooldays more than regular 
lessons. The fancy for school quickly palled. 
He found he could not romp as his sturdy 
comrades did, and they refused to be drilled 
into highwaymen or Indians as he wished. Then, 
near as school was, he had to go tied to Cummy's 
apron-strings, for if it w^ere wet or cold she 
* changed his feet,* as she said, for fear of a 

128 




^^^^^^^^^^^- ».-^..5^- 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

chill. The others, with the candid cruelty of 
children, jeered at their molly-coddled com- 
panion, jeers which stung the thin-skinned Louis 
severely. His conversation, which amused his 
elders and later his contemporaries, was not con- 
genial to his small schoolmates. The gilt was 
soon rubbed off the delights of school. 

But a good mother is the best of teachers, 
and he, having two at his disposal, stowed away 
a deal of knowledge. The books Cummy read 
him she says she, too, enjoyed heartily. She 
had a leaning to Ballantyne, in preference to 
Cooper or Mayne Reid. He had a reader in 
sympathy with his taste, for his slave loved her 
task. 

He rubbed against other young folk in the 
manse garden, but like his schoolmates they were 
not to his mind. He was too rashly eager to 
win his spurs when playing ' French and English,' 
too eager to dash over the boundary to gain 
loot or rescue a prisoner. His physical strength 
was not equal to the tasks he set himself, and 
he was captured by the enemy and upbraided 
across the border by his countrymen for headlong 
stupidity. The other boys were too rude and 
hardy for Louis. He Uked better to watch ' the 
gardener at his toil,' or play with girl cousins, 

I 129 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

who were diverted with the frail child, and found 
his polite, considerate manners a pleasing change. 
In the manse garden he was hero, patriot or 
robber, till, wearied of play, he sauntered off 
to listen to the moil of the mill. Summer and 
Colinton were synonymous to him. But the 
' herd of men ' ended his duties, and the manse 
sheltered a stranger race, so the Stevensons spent 
some summers at the seaside, where Louis went 

* Crusoeing ' — a word, he says, * which covers 
all extempore eating in the open air.' North 
Berwick was then not so villafied a place as now, 
and he wandered around tasting of an adventur- 
ous gean, whose hardihood to grow on the salt- 
encrusted cliffs in the teeth of searching winds 
commanded his respect. He lunched at Tantallon 
on ' sandwiches and visions ' — visions of Marmion 
or Douglas in that hold. His cousin tells that 

* games of pirates played in the open were a 
constant source of amusement among the sand 
wreaths to the west of North Berwick, where 
we were wont to play together, and the explora- 
tion of old castles and ruins was one of his 
greatest pleasures.' 

Another year he spent an autumn at Peebles. 

Though frail of frame he was full of spirit, and 

many romantic and historic scenes he imagined, 
130 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

and was fain, when strength and chance allowed, 
to enact. At Peebles Louis had a pony, and his 
two companions were also mounted. He chris- 
tened their steeds in rather a startUng manner. 
The girl's snow-white palfrey, a safe mount fitted 
to carry a somewhat timid rider, was Heaven. 
Her brother's black steed was Hell ; and his 
own, being a midway colour, was Purgator>\ 
The boys loved to ford the Tweed, and were 
always choosing roads which led them across 
the river. No sooner were they over, than 
despite the protests of Heaven's rider, they would 
change their route and return by the watery way. 
Some days Louis bade them assume they were 
moss-troopers out a-rieving, and every flock of 
sheep they met doucely coming from market, 
they uproariously hailed as their spoil. Other 
times they played at being pursued by the 
English, and were forced to fly full speed for the 
shelter of their own peel tower. Louis foresaw 
an ambush in every broomy scaur which had to 
be dashed past. Heaven, who disliked this 
erratic pace, lagged, and forthwith became a 
wounded comrade, whom chivalry forbade them 
to desert. The boys loved to gallop through the 
toll bars, pretending they were running a block- 
ade ; but the girl, being of a law-abiding nature, 

131 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

was anxious to pay tax, and soothed the toll- 
keeper's wrath, as he shook his fist at the black 
and brown pony riders, jeering at his defeat. 
When, wearied of being caterans, or the stragglers 
from that fatal Flodden, they raced along the 
Queen's highway, Louis shouted, ' Hell wins, I 
say ; don't hold Heaven in, you stupid. No ; I 
believe Purgatory will beat you both.* The 
visitors that summer at Peebles must have often 
met this capering trio, led by the spare-framed 
boy on the brown, who, with face inflamed by 
excitement, resurrected many a bygone borderer, 
and fought their battles over again. 

In winter he found much to explore round his 
native city. Craigleith quarry, within a mile 
of Edinburgh town, attracted him on holidays, 
for its hillocks tufted with gorse, the green water 
far in the abyss, made fine exploring ground. 
Then the * stones chattered to him,* and told him 
tales of long ago — of villages now swept away, 
or a house with old trees around it, wedged into 
a street, was a story to him. Many a red-tiled 
* nugget of cottages,* spared by the encroaching 
town, did Louis discover when he was a school- 
boy. * The memories of an Edinburgh boy are 
partly the memories of the town. I look back,* 
he says, * with deUght on many an escalade of 

132 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

garden walls, many a ramble among lilacs full 
of piping birds, many an exploration in obscure 
quarters that were neither town nor country ; 
and I think that both for my companions and 
myself there was a special interest, a point of 
romance and a sentiment of foreign travel 
when we hit in our excursions on the butt end 
of some former hamlet, and found a few 
rustic cottages embedded among streets and 
squares.' 

He was eight or more before he took to reading 
to himself. With a slave at command to read 
when he wished, he had no need to hurr>^ him- 
self to learn, precocious as he was at mastering 
words in print. But the thirst for knowledge 
was strong within him. His constant cry was, 
' Tell me more.' Cummy ransacked her brains 
for further tales from out the storied past where- 
with to amuse him. Louis's wife wrote Alison 
Cunningham lately that Louis had told her he 
liked his nurse's narrations more than any book 
she read to him. But his appetite was insatiable, 
and he was often baffled by being told, in answer 
to questions, that when he grew clever he would 
read for himself and find out. The spirit of 
inquiry strong within him spurred the lagging 
schoolboy on. One evening ' of heavenly sweet- 

133 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

ness,* deserted by his companion with whom he 
had been building sand castles, he went at sun- 
set among the firs, a book of fairy tales in his 
hand, and began to read to himself as he strolled. 
Then, he says, he knew he loved reading. 
Cummy's favourite, M'Cheyne, was left in the 
lurch. He found his mother had been educating 
his taste, and, though his father's library was a 
place of ' some austerity,' he found there life- 
long friends. Four old volumes of Punch he 
revelled in, and he was astonished to find in 
after-life that the ' Snob Papers * were written 
by big Mr. Thackeray, and not by the hook- 
nosed, deformed humorist, Mr. Punch. He also 
tasted of the Master of Romance's Guy Manner- 
ing and Rob Roy, and new worlds of entertain- 
ment opened up. The Arabian Nights he read, 
he says, 'in the fat, old, double-columned vol- 
umes with the prints. I was just well into the 
story of the Hunchback, I remember, when my 
clergyman grandfather (a man we counted 
pretty stiff) came in behind me. I grew blind 
with terror ; but instead of ordering the book 
away he said he envied me. Ah ! well he 
might ! ' 

During his tedious convalescence after the 
fever he consumed a deal of literature. He was 
134 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

read to, of course. ' I listened for news of the 
great, vacant world, upon whose edge I stood ; 
I listened for delightful plots that I might re- 
enact in play, and romantic scenes and circum- 
stances that I might call up before me, with 
closed eyes, when I was tired of Scotland and 
home, and that w^eary prison of the sick chamber 
in which I lay so long in durance/ Robinson 
Crusoe, Mayne Reid, and a book called Paul 
Blake, were his favourite peeps beyond that 
sunny room at Keriot Row. When he learned 
to enjoy reading to himself, he was like a sheep 
long pent in a small fold, turned into endless 
and rich pastures to browse at will. It was then 
his education really began. 

In 1863 he was enrolled as an Academy boy 
in one of the biggest and best Edinburgh day 
schools, a junior rival to the High School where 
Scott was educated. Louis was at first proud 
of his advancement. The school lay down hill 
from his home, and he ran off to his task, rasping 
his clacken ^ on the area railings as he went, a 
noisy trick he afterwards made a hero of his 
indulge in. Louis's clacken was only worn by 

^ The clacken is a wooden racket dear to Academy boys, and 
usually carried in the other hand from their books, handy for 
amusement or war. 

135 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

this rasping. He did not join the outdoor pur- 
suits of the boys. The playfield near by with 
the green mound marking where the bow butts 
had stood in days of yore saw Httle of him. 
Even the yard round the school, where clackens 
were put to their orthodox use in brief play 
interv^als, had no attractions for him. He cared 
for none of the games with which the active boys 
filled their leisure, so he was little known by his 
contemporaries. When he wanted exercise he 
strolled alone, and as the houses spoke to him 
he was not so solitary^ as he seemed. The 
Academy is close to Silvermills, where Davie 
Balfour met Alan Breck before they made a 
dash for the sea, where they heard what Louis 
himself calls that piece of living Scots— the story 
of Tod Lapraik and his fiendish dance on the 
Bass Rock. Silvermills once saw the precious 
ore which gives it its name melted in a mill on 
the humble Water of Leith, and a village sprang 
up to support its workers. To Louis, who passed 
by it on his schooldays, it was not an uninteresting 
suburb of temporary sheds and workmen's flats, 
but a little community far from the city. ' Be- 
south of the mill-lade in a scrog of wood,' where 
St. Stephen's church now stands, Louis's hero 
and part namesake found ' the place and the 
136 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

hour and the talking of the water infinitely 
pleasant; The mill-lade, bickering and surging 
busily, was often viewed by a tardy schoolboy, 
and before his eyes the unsightly houses and yards 
faded, and he saw it as it used to be when the 
silver from ' God's Blessing ' mine was worked into 
shape there. Out in Samoa he remembered what 
he had conjured of its past when passing at a 
dawdling pace to his studies, wondering what 
the place had looked like before the old town 
had become too small for Edinburghers. Quite 
unconsciously then he relished the pleasure he 
depicts in his Dedication to Catrmta, of follow- 
ing ' among named streets and numbered houses 
the country walks of David Balfour.' Some- 
times, wearying of passing St. Stephen's daily, 
he would go to the westernmost end of Heriot 
Row and trot down Church Lane and imagine 
it again a thorn-edged loaning, leading from 
Stockbridge to the West Kirk. He never forgot 
these talks with the past, and he could minutely 
chronicle ever>^thing his eyes had lit on when a 
boy. His * Misadventures of John Nicholson,' 
w^hich appeared in a Christmas number, Yule 
Tide, illustrates this. It owes its reappearance 
in the Edinburgh edition to Mr. FouHs, of Messrs. 
Douglas and Foulis, Edinburgh, who reminded 



137 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

the editors of its existence. Its wonderful local 
colour had made a deep impression on him. 
Louis locates John Nicholson's house on the 
south, the dull, side of Randolph Crescent. The 
north side has a wide outlook to the Forth, but 
John's dreary^ home is put in a sunless corner. 
Louis did not forget the crows who built in the 
crescent garden, as their ancestors had done 
when their tree-top nurseries were in the wood 
of Drumsheugh. In this story^ of John Nicholson 
there is a murder, out at Murrayfield. Mr. 
Baildon — whose recollections of Robert Louis 
Stevenson as a schoolboy in Temple Bar, for 
March 1895, I have already quoted — read the 
story in Y^ile Tide, and identified his house as 
the scene of this tragedy. Murrayfield, being 
out of town, had, on Saturdays, attractions for 
the schoolboys. Louis remembered it, and 
painted it as it would seem on a drear}' night, 
not as a happy holiday house. Mr. Baildon, 
entering into correspondence with his friend, who 
had then journeyed to Samoa, reminded Louis 
Stevenson that he had been so unkind as to 
leave a dead body in the Murrayfield dining- 
room. As it was long since he and Louis had 
met, he said he thought the least the author of 
the crime could do by way of atonement was to 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

come back to Eklinburgh, not only to give them 
an opportunity of renewing their intercourse, 
but to give Louis the opportunity- of removing 
the haunting corpse he had deposited on his 
friend's hearth. This last imperative reason for 
his return mightily tickled the fancy of R. L. S. 
in Samoa. 

One amusement Louis entered into at the 
Academy. That was the starting of a school 
magazine in which he had an editorial interest. 
The Sunheain, as it was called, was a manu- 
script magazine. If some one came across this 
collection of the editor's blood and murder con- 
tributions, written in his boyish hand, what a 
find it would be ! Louis, as usual, when riding 
a hobby, was in thorough earnest over it. The 
other contributors fell off, or did not circulate 
the one copy, but he stuck to it with determined 
diligence. There was one number with a coloured 
illustration in it, a portrait of one of his cousins 
in lesson hours, his tasks pushed on one side, 
blissfully ignorant of the presence of a master 
who, tawse in hand, is looking over the boy's 
shoulder. 

Louis never took any forward place in his 
classes. His health kept him a not unwilling 
victim at home. Then health again sent him 

139 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

and his mother abroad in the spring. Even in 
summer he was irregular in his attendance, for 
the family was often away from town, and Louis 
found crusoeing more instructive than journeying 
by an early train to school. For a short time 
he was at a boarding-school near London, but 
his father passing through on his way to Mentone 
removed Louis, and together they journeyed to 
join Mrs. Stevenson in the Riviera. Mr. Steven- 
son was wont to say he preferred his son to 
grow up a healthy idiot rather than a sickly 
genius, so Louis's boarding-school experiences 
were decidedly brief. 

From 1864 to 1867 he attended a Mr. Thom- 
son's school, of which Mr. Baildon, who met 
Louis there, says, ' I do not think there were 
at this little seminary^ more than a dozen boys, 
ranging in ages from nine or ten to fourteen or 
fifteen, and our intellectual calibre varied fully 
as much as our years. For some of us were sent 
there for reasons of health, and others because 
they had not made that progress with their 
studies which their fond parents had hoped. 
We had no home lessons, but learned, in the 
two or three hours of afternoon school, what 
we were expected to remember next day.' Ill- 
health, not genuine backwardness, sent Steven- 

140 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

son there, and he was no longer burdened with 

heavy tasks to study in the evening. His father 

disapproved of school books and school tasks. 

Mr. Thomson's plan, free of the drudgery of 

home preparation, met with his approval, also 

with Louis's. His friend Baildon and he found 

that they had ample time to worship at the shrine 

of literature. Louis had a den in the top of the 

house in Heriot Row, and the two boys there 

hatched plots for work. Deacon Brodie's history 

had early caught Louis's fancy, and in 1864 he 

showed his friend a drama he had written on it. 

Louis did not desert old friends or the fancies 

of his youth even on paper. Deacon Brodie 

was not forgotten, and was re-written later with 

Mr. Henley's collaboration. He may not have 

acquired much examination-passing knowledge 

at Mr. Thomson's, but there is no doubt he 

learned at that period a vast deal out of school 

hours. He made few friends at any of his schools. 

His delicacy and his dislike of boisterous boyish 

games cut him off from them. He was a soHtary 

lad, but to his love of seclusion we doubtless owe 

a deal, for then was the seed-time to the harvest 

of ideas of which we reap the benefit. He 

had travelled much in his schooldays, and he 

travelled with observant eyes. Though he was 

141 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON 

lonely, he was no recluse. Early he enticed 
enjoyment out of what he called the * task of 
happiness.* When among surroundings that 
pleased his sunny, responsive nature, he was a 
life-loving, gay-hearted lad. 



142 



SPRING EQUINOX 



143 



' Do you remember— can we e'er forget ? 
How, in the coiled perplexities of youth, 
In our wild climate, in our scowling town, 
We gloomed and shivered, sorrowed, sobbed, and feared ?' 
— 'To my Old Familiars.' Songs of Travel. 



^44 



CHAPTER VII 

SPRING EQUINOX 

' At sixteen we should be men,' said Louis to 
his schoolmate, Mr. Baildon, when they were 
rambling together one Saturday, talking of 
their futures. His comrade, looking back across 
the waste of years and recollecting this boyish 
statement, adds, ' He, of all mortals, who was 
in a sense always a boy ! ' Ever>' one of the 
readers of his * verses ' or his stories must feel 
that he has awakened anew in them, even from 
long-buried slumber, the charm of their child- 
hood. Mr. Barrie says, * He was the spirit of 
boyhood tugging at the skirts of this old world 
of ours and compelling it to come back and 
play.' But as a lad in his teens he was more 
serious of face, more troubled of spirit than when 
years had winged their flight. In his school- 
boy photographs this tristful puzzled look clouds 
his expression. Nevertheless, as he himself said, 
writing of his own experience, ' It is good to 
have been young in youth, and as the years go 
K 145 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

on to grow older. Many are already old before 
they are through their teens ; but to travel 
deliberately through one's ages is to get the 
heart out of a liberal education.' The ' gloom 
of youth,' when ' in the palace porch of life,' he 
' huddled with chimeras from within,' was 
stamped on his face. But all his sulky looks 
melted away when he grew out of his teens. 
Merry of soul he was, and merry of soul he 
remained to the end. Wlien he wrote Treasure 
Island he was a man of thirty-three — he wrote 
it with a boyish zest straight from his heart. 
He found, he said, when reading chapter by 
chapter at Braemar to his family that his step- 
son was not his only boy listener. * It seemed 
to me,' he writes, with that sane critical judg- 
ment of his, * as original as sin. I counted on 
one boy. I found I had two in my audience. 
My father caught fire at once with all the 
romance and childishness of his original nature. 
His own stories that every night of his life he 
put himself to sleep with dealt perpetually with 
ships, roadside inns, robbers, old sailors, and 
commercial travellers before the era of steam. 
He never finished one of these romances. He, 
lucky^ man, did not require to finish them. But 

in Treasure Island he recognised something 
146 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

kindred to his own imagination, it was his kind 
of picturesque, and he not only heard with 
dehght the daily chapter but set himself actively 
to collaborate. When the time came for Billy 
Bones's chest to be ransacked, he must have 
passed the better part of a day preparing on the 
back of a legal envelope an inventory of its 
contents, which I exactly followed, and the 
name of Flint's old ship, the Walrus, was given 
at his particular request.' Louis unconsciously 
here pays his own powers a pretty compliment, 
letting us see how his intimate knowledge of 
what would please and interest a boy resurrected 
in his grave father the boyishness of old. And 
Mr. Stevenson was not alone in thus returning 
to this second childhood. In the preface to 
the translation of Treasure Island into French, 
it is stated that Mr. Gladstone once returned 
home from the House of Commons and, by 
chance, picked up the book. He soon became 
entangled in the seductive mesh of its plot, 
read on to the end, and found he had lost his 
night's sleep in the pursuit of Treasure. Mrs. 
Barrie, we know, refused to go to rest till she 
saw how the hero laddie got safe out of the 
apple barrel. 

Louis thoroughly enjoyed the planning and 

147 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

weaving of these tales of adventure. When 
young he was withheld by sickness from active 
participation in stirring deeds ; but when he 
was free to do as he listed, with as much ardour 
in his thirties as if he were still in his teens, he 
sailed among tropic Ultima Thules and tasted of 
the life after which he had yearned for formerly. 
But when he was finishing his schooldays in 
Edinburgh, and wearying to imprint an exploring 
foot on the trackless desert of his future, he was, 
unhappily, depressed by the seriousness of the 
art of living, which he vowed was the most 
difficult of all the arts — an art for the teaching 
of which no provision is made. 

He had been pleased with the conversation of 
his drajuatis personce in the shape of tin soldiers 
and those coloured paper figures which slid on 
to his mimic stage in tin grooves called spoons. 
He made a toy theatre with a stage two feet deep 
and nine inches high, and the soldiers were played 
with round the nursery table or kept him com- 
pany in bed. Their actions, when he wrote 
them down, did not seem so full of vigour and 
reality as they had been when first he conjured 
them up in his mind. He realized then that 
he could never rest until he could transfer his 
thoughts into fitting words, and he was a hard 

148 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

task-master to himself. He knew the bent of 
his inclinations, but before him loomed the here- 
ditary seat in his father's office. He was proud 
of the work which his father and the others of 
that strenuous family had accomplished, but 
he felt that he was forced to flee the labours of 
his sires. 

' I must arise, O father, and to port 
Some lost, complaining seaman pilot home,' 

he sang ; but it was not by the Stevenson 
works or by their beacons, piercing the dark- 
ness, that he accomplished this vow. By the 
flashes of his pen he lightened the way on the 
sea of hfe to many. He knew he had no aptitude 
for the engineer's trade. He knew this as a 
boy when by the sea he saw his father, ever 
thinking of his profession, ' pass hours on the 
beach, brooding over the waves, counting them, 
noting their least deflection, noting when they 
broke. On Tweedside or by Lyne or Manor, we 
have spent together whole afternoons ; to me at 
the time extremely wearisome ; to him, as I am 
now sorry to think, bitterly mortif>dng. The 
river was to me a pretty and various spectacle ; 
I could not see — I could not be made to see — it 
otherwise. To my father it was a chequer-board 
of lively forces, which he traced from pool to 

149 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

shallow with minute appreciation and enduring 
interest. It was to me like school in holidays ; 
but to him, until I had worn him out with my 
invincible triviahty, a delight.' This * engineer's 
voluminous handy book of nature ' was one 
which Louis could never read. His Eastern- 
looking eyes saw differently from his father's 
Norse grey ones. Ever before him Tusitala saw 
the office stool. The life such as his grandfather 
had led in the olden days when the lighthouse 
towers were being founded and their lamps first 
lit was attractive enough, full of adventure, sail- 
ing, riding, wreckers, and storms. But Louis 
knew that his unconquerable gipsy fancy must 
have its way. ' It is an evil age,' he deplores, 
' for the gipsily inclined among men. He who 
can sit squarest on a three-legged stool, he it is 
who has the wealth and glory.' He gave up all 
thoughts of the former to avoid the ledgers and 
the office ; but he, like his kinsmen, was of the 
' ready and the strong of word,' and he deter- 
mined to cultivate this talent of language which 
lay dormant within him. He had in him, too, 
the doggedness which made these kinsmen such 
victorious fighters against the encroaching seas. 
Mr. Baildon, who read as soon as they were 
written Louis's schoolboy literary^ efforts, says, 
150 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

* There is no sign in these early attempts of any- 
thing premature or precocious, and nothing can 
be truer, in spite of his early bent towards 
letters, than that his success was the fruit, as 
he himself alleges, of persistent industr}^ and 
indefatigable perseverance.' Louis Stevenson 
determined to master what he called the * kittle 
art ' of writing, and as a schoolboy knew that he 
had before him a sore task to mount his Hill of 
Difficulty. 

He had to begin his ascent in the face of 
paternal discountenance. Till well up in his 
teens his gipsy inclinations had been in abeyance. 
He was amenable to discipline and amenable to 
orthodox Edinburgh life. As a small boy he had 
enjoyed being dressed by his two mothers, and 
was a show child at juvenile parties, franker 
than his comrades, with courteous manners, 
an utter absence of Scottish gaucherie, and a 
strong wish to dance and talk, and be pleased 
and pleasant. Even as a schoolboy, unhke others 
of his years and nation, he went to parties with 
a good grace and good manners. There was no 
trouble then about getting him into evening dress. 
Other boys had to be threatened into velveteens 
and kilts, and sulked in corners on their arrival 
at the festive scene. A host of Louis's in the 

15^ 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

Academy days remembered him as the nice boy 
who came in to dance with his youngsters of an 
evening, executing his steps with all the airs and 
graces of a dancing master, and talking to his 
elders like a sage. * The little Frenchman ' his 
hostess called him, so polite was he, so gay. He 
Hked fine clothes in these days, and was particular 
as to his appearance, envious a little of the boys 
who donned the garb of old Gaul, for he ever had 
an eye for bright colour and regretted he was 
too ill put together to wear a tartan kilt. He 
travelled much in his boyhood, when he was 
forced to follow the swallows in search of the 
sun, and says his senses were alternately stunned 
and quickened by the novelties he saw. He had 
read and observed more than most boys of his 
years, and he was free from all insular prejudices. 
About the time that he went to Mr. Thomson 
he began to feel that he was shut up within 
the Bastille of civilization, and the sense of im- 
prisonment galled him. The feel of the fetters 
changed him into a sedate boy who did not care 
to join other lads and lasses who played in the 
gardens in front of Heriot Row. When the 
thrushes and blackbirds began to sing in the 
shrubberies, when back-street children, as sure 
as the days lengthened, span tops, and played 
152 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

hop-scotch on the pavement, these gardens began 
to fill with young folk from Heriot Row. The 
boys climbed trees and held high revels aloft, 
played cricket on forbidden stretches of sward, 
defied the gardener, and encouraged the girls to 
follow them over the borders. 

Louis never joined these neighbouring children 
at their unruly sports. He noted when the flower- 
ing currant and tender greening began to appear 
among the dull-leaved, winter-enduring shrubs, 
and listened amid the grey solemn town for ' the 
premonitory^ notes of the bestirring birds,' sounds 
pleasant to his ear in the silence before dawn. 
He disliked the other bipeds of his own species 
who played in these well-wooded, green-turfed 
gardens. He disliked their noisy games. He 
felt that ' shades of the prison house ' were closing 
more and more oppressively in on him, and he 
had no elbow-room. He was too much in leading- 
strings yet to see hope of escape. He went ofT to 
corners of the Princes Street gardens and rumin- 
ated under the shadow of the Castle rock, where 
no boys came and asked him to join in their 
brawling play, or, worse still, jeered at him for 
refusing, knowing he was physically unable to 
cow thom into order or accept their challenge to 

fight. 

153 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

Far away from these disturbing elements he 
could talk in comfort with a rare friend, or 
ponder according to his fancy, while looking 
over the transformed valley. He, the ' consis- 
tent idler,' had begun his literary task. * Sooner 
or later,' he said at Vailima, ' somehow, anyhow, 
I was bound to write a novel. It seems vain to 
ask why. Men are born with various manias ; 
from my earliest childhood it was mine to make 
a plaything of imaginary series of events, and as 
soon as I was able to write I became a good 
friend of the paper-makers. Reams upon reams 
must have gone to the making of Rathillet, The 
Pentland Rising,^ The Kings Pardon, otherwise 
Park Whitehead, Edward Daven, A Country 
Dance, and A Vendetta in the West, and it is 
consolatory these reams are now all ashes and 
have been received again into the soil.' This 
cremated Rathillet was written when he was 
fifteen. Though he was then and ever after so 
severe and fair a critic of his own works, his two 
mothers were vastly proud of these boyish at- 
tempts. His father never heeded Louis's edu- 

1- ' Ne pas confondre. Not the slim green pamphlet with the 
imprint of Andrew Elliot, for which (as I see with amazement 
from the book lists) the gentlemen of England are wilhng to pay 
fancy prices, but its predecessor, a bulky historical romance 
without a spark of merit, and now deleted from the world.' 

154 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

cation. He was well pleased that his son was 
not brilliant in his classes, for he knew he was 
busy in his own way. A book was his chosen 
companion. Mr. Stevenson let him wander at 
will through his own selected library, where 
Louis says, ' the proceedings of learned societies, 
some Latin divinity, encyclop^ias, physical 
science, and above all, optics, held the chief 
place upon the shelves, and it was only in holes 
and corners that anything really legible existed 
as by accident.' 

Twice Mrs. Stevenson had two short pieces of 
her son's printed for private circulation. She 
lived to see these little booklets fetch more than 
their weight in gold. A manuscript for which 
he received £3, 3s. was lately unearthed and 

sold for £26. 

Mr. Stevenson pooh-poohed the adulation ac- 
corded to the boyish author by his mother and 
nurse, so when praise came from his firm-set lips, 
it was all the sweeter. The Pentland Rising was 
one of these immature booklets, not in reams, 
but in the reduced form, which Louis mentions 
in a note already quoted. The Charity Bazaar 
was another. This was written for a sale of 
work held in Mrs. Stevenson's drawing-room 
for the benefit of some foreign mission she was 

155 



R0I3ERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

interested in. The booklet was sold in 1896 for 
£25, A second-hand bookseller told me of this 
fancy price, adding, * I don't beheve his mother 
had £25 worth of work on her drawing-room 
table.' I repeated this to Mrs. Stevenson, who 
was astonished at the figure her book, as she 
called it, fetched nowadays ; but casting her 
mind back thirty years, she added, ' Indeed his 
mother had more than £2^ worth of work at her 
Charity Bazaar, for I remember I made £^5, not 
counting Lew's book, which sold for 6d. a copy.* 

In 1867 Louis's easy-going schooldays ended. 
That year was a memorable one in the annals of 
the Stevenson family, for it was at that time that 
they bought Swanston Cottage, that favoured 
spot, * a green fold in the lap of the Pentlands.' 
Mrs. Stevenson and Louis found seeking health 
in the South irksome. Mr. Stevenson felt de- 
pressed when left alone in the grim North. 
Summers had been passed at the seaside, at 
Tweedside, and various haunts within range of 
Edinburgh, so that the engineer might spend 
week-ends with wife and son ; but such an 
arrangement did not satisfy Mr. Stevenson. 
He wanted a home within easy reach of that 
office which his son so dreaded. Mrs. Steven- 
son knew the restful quiet, the pure air, of the 

156 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

green ridge of hills which guards Edinburgh on 
the south, and which looked down into the 
chimneys of the old manse at Colin ton. She 
had always thriven under their sheltering shadow, 
so Swanston w^as seen, liked, and bought. All 
who have read St. Ives know Swanston as it was 
when the Stevensons first made it their spring 
and summer home — a place to go to for rest and 
change even in midwinter. 

Once upon a time the Edinburgh magistrates 
had built a cottage at Sw^anston, a cottage to 
which they might retire when worn out with the 
afiFairs of the city. In Picturesque Notes Louis 
tells the histor>^ of Swanston when under the rule 
of the civic dignitaries. * The dell was turned 
into a garden ; and on the knoll that shelters it 
from the plain and the sea winds, they built 
a cottage looking to the hills. They brought 
crockets and gargoyles from old St. Giles's, which 
they were then restoring, and disposed them on 
the gables and over the door and about the 
garden.' They planted their pleasure grounds 
with trees, they swathed the house, decorated 
with church quarried stones, in clematis, and the 
Stevensons reaped the harvest of the long-dead 
bailies' planting and building. They lived there 
constantly from March to October, and in course 

157 



ROBEKT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

of time the old house St. Ives knew had to be 
enlarged to suit more modern notions of comfort. 
With its sunny frontage, its immunity from the 
sweep of the scathing east winds, its nearness in 
point of distance to the town, its retiredness from 
all town bustle, though within sight of the city's 
towers and steeples which lie like an anchored 
fleet at the base of Arthur's Seat — the place suited 
the Stevenson family admirably. None loved it 
more than their wandering child, who by his 
magical memory was enabled to retrace his ' nu- 
merous footsteps ' when he willed, to see again, 
from across the wide world, his Pentland home 
nestling like the ewe buchts among the broom 
of the Cowden-knowes * in the hrk of the hill.* 

Swanston is some three miles from Ekiinburgh ; 
but the houses, * the new folds of city ' that 
Louis saw * glitter,' increase yearly. They have 
all but invaded Shirley's Hermitage, and march- 
ing over its secluded valley, are rapidly advancing 
to Fairmilehead. Still even to-day Swanston so 
determinedly turns its back on Edinburgh, and 
looks up to the scarred brow of Caerketton, that 
it refuses to see the advancing tide of the city. 
The one o'clock gun from the Castle keeps the 
Swanston clocks correctly timed. The nightly 
bugle blown from that Castle too reaches it when 

158 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

evenings are still, or the winds blowing in that 
direction. Otherwise Swanston hears nothing of 
the neighbouring town— hears only the sheep 
bleating and the peewits crying, as with a swish 
of wings they pass nigh the house. Sometimes 
the plaintive wail of the gulls, driven inland by 
stress of weather, or forced, like many an 
honoured Scot, to follow at the plough's tail 
to earn a meal, break in on the hillside quiet 
with their husky sea voices. The old house of 
Swanston, once the grange of Whitekirk Abbey, 
is close to the cottage, a bleak building exposed 
to the winds, for its founders sought no * lirk.* 
Its nearness does not disturb its more recent 
neighbour. The voices from the clachan of 
cottages gathered round the older house, the 
bustle of life from the farmyard, toned by 
distance, sound pleasantly on the ears of those 
in the garden that Robert Young tended. 

Louis's books are all full of autobiographical 
glimpses. We can trace whence he drew foun- 
dations for a plot, backgrounds for a story. 
Wandering on the uplands, hearkening to the 
weird cry of the whaups, or to the wind ' austere 
and pure ' whistHng in his ears as it whistles in 
the shrouds of a ship at sea, the Pentlands were 
to him the historic ground where the Covenanters 

159 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

made their stand. His first history of them (the 
one that consumed so many reams of paper) was 
suggested to his mind by the monument to those 
who stood by their creed, which lies between 
CoHnton and Swanston, and to which, when he 
was at the Old Manse, he walked. When Swan- 
ston was his home his legs were longer, and 
he went further afield, and so perhaps saw the 
grave in the hills, ' Sacred to the Memory of a 
Covenanter, who fought and was wounded at 
Rullion Green, November 28th, 1666, and who 
died at Oaken Bush the day after the battle, 
and was buried here by Adam Sanderson, of 
Blackhill.' This martyr was a westland man, 
and he made his companion promise to bury him 
on the ridge where through a gap in the range 
there is a peep away to his well-loved Ayrshire. 
The lonely hills for the lonely Louis were peopled 
with the makers of history. 

At Swanston he had studies for his pen before 
his window. Robert, the gardener, ' was lowly, 
and a peacemaker, and a serv^ant of God.' Then 
the shepherd, whose bellowing commands order- 
ing Louis to ' c'way out amang the sheep,' at 
first hounded the youth from his snug nooks on 
the braeside, till, as he says, ' I skulked in my 

favourite wilderness like a Cameronian of the 
160 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

Killing Time, and John Todd was my Claver- 

house, and his dogs my questing dragoons/ 

But the trespassing young ruralist stuck to 

his haunts, and 

' Wi' sober heart, 
For meditation sat apairt, 
When orra loves or kittle art 
Perplexed my mind.' 

He learned in time not to fear John Todd, and 
before long the queerly assorted pair became close 
friends. ' The oldest herd on the Pentland ' 
was full of tales of his ' curlew-scattering, sheep- 
collecting life.' The student sat * weel neukit 
atween the muckle Pentland knees,' with his 
books, though he confesses he read little, and 
listened eagerly to his whilom enemy, John Todd. 
* He was,' Louis explains, * a wayfarer, and took 
my gipsy fancy.' Louis owns that John and 
Robert were never particularly friendly one to 
another — Robert was too conventional, too even 
grooved — but he would not dissociate his two 
Swanston friends. In 1894 he writes from 
Vailima about the Edinburgh edition : * I think 
the old gardener has to stay where I put him 
last. It would not do to separate John and 
Robert.' These days of idle lounging on the 
Pentlands, though Horace or Montaigne lay un- 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

opened beside him, were days in which, accord- 
ing to Thoreau's reasoning, Louis grew. But 
these growing days were in the summer-tide, 
when he learned much Hstening to the shepherd's 
tale under the hawthorn. There were winter 
days in town, and, his schooling over, he was 
entered at Edinburgh University. He describes 
himself at this period as * a certain lean, ugly, 
idle, unpopular student, full of changing humours, 
fine occasional purposes of good, unflinching ac- 
ceptance of evil, shiverings on wet east-windy 
mornings, journeys up to class, infinite yawnings 
during lectures, and unquestionable gusto in the 
delights of truantry.* 

Mr. Baildon comments on this description. 
* Stevenson calls himself " ugly " in his student 
days, but I think this is a term that never at any 
time fitted him. In body he was assuredly badly 
set up. His limbs were long, lean, and spidery, 
and his chest flat, so as almost to suggest mal- 
nutriment, such sharp corners did his joints 
make under his clothes.' Another contemporary 
student, writing in a daily paper at the time of 
Stevenson's death, recalls him as * a thin, pale- 
faced youth, with piercing eyes, ever in a hurry, 
cigarette in mouth and muffler round his neck, 
and with loose locks which suggested an advisable 

163 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

early interview with a skilful barber.' At this 
period he was perturbed, discontented, rebellious, 
and as his expression was moulded by his feelings 
he was not so far wrong in his verdict of * ugly.' 
These were the days when he leaned on the 
parapet of the North Bridge and enviously 
watched the trains gliding off ' on a voyage to 
brighter skies. Happy the passengers who shake 
off the dust of Edinburgh, and have heard for 
the last time the cry of the east wind among 
her chimney tops. And yet the place,' he adds, 
' establishes an interest in people's hearts ; go 
where they will, they find no city of the same 
distinction ; go where they will, they take a 
pride in their old home.' Remembering how he 
felt, chained and trammelled in the city of his 
birth, he sympathised in An Inland Voyage with 
the omnibus driver at Mauberge, who ' had a 
spark of something human in his soul, whose 
bones thirsted all the while for travel.' Louis 
had, like many, * aspired angrily after that some- 
where else of the imagination where all troubles 
are supposed to end.' It was at this period, too, 
that he could sympathise with Ferguson, the 
poet, whom he calls 'the poor white-faced, 
drunken, vicious boy ... my unhappy pre- 
decessor on the causey of Auld Reekie. I 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

believe Ferguson lives in me, I do. But '' tell 
it not in Gath." Every man has these fanciful 
superstitions coming, going, but yet enduring ; 
only most men are so wise (or the poet in them so 
dead) that they keep their follies for themselves.' 
Stevenson, loitering at college, with the visions 
of the harness of an engineer awaiting him, and 
longing all the while for the collar work of litera- 
ture, was in the full blast of the equinoctial gales 
of youth. This spring hurricane was hard to 
weather, but he steered his course out from 
among the breakers in an obstinate, headstrong 
way, and became, in the words of his friend Mr. 

Henley — 

' The master of his fate, 
The captain of his soul.' 

* On my tomb, if ever I have one, I mean to 
get these words inscribed : "He clung to his 
paddle," ' Louis said in his first book, An Inland 
Voyage. In this watery journey, the Arethusa 
had borne him gallantly down the Gise, till it 
rushed below a fallen tree, and then, the canoe 
absconding, like Absalom's steed, left her skipper 
entangled in the branches. * Death himself had 
me by the heels,' he wrote, ' for this was his last 
ambuscade, and he must now personally join in 
the fray. And still I clung to my paddle.' The 
164 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

paddle with which he pHed his course in life, 
with which he steered into our hearts, was in 
reality his pen. He clung to it despite adverse 
currents, and wielded it moreover with a boyish 
gaiety of spirit which showed his heroic pluck. 
* Gladly I lived,' he truly sang. 

When he left school, however, he was not 
allowed to use the paddle he eventually handled 
so well. Wliile yet in his teens the pattern idler 
was sent to view the practical part of engineering. 
He certainly made an effort to give his father's 
profession a trial. He went to Anstruther, where 
the Stevenson firm were building a breakwater. 
It was hoped that he would glean engineering 
experience in this Fife village. ' What I gleaned 
I am sure I don't know,' he exclaims ; ' I had 
already my own private determination to be an 
author ; I loved the art of words and the appear- 
ances of life, and travellers, and headers, and rubble, 
and polished ashlar, and pierres perdues, and even 
the thrilling question of the string course inter- 
ested me only (if they interested me at all) as 
properties for some possible romance, or as words 
to add to my vocabulary-. ' He was most indus- 
trious when off duty. Then it was that he wrote 
the cremated Covenanting novel, Voces Fidelhmi, 
and dialogues of a dramatic character in verse, 

165 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

also committed to the flames. There was no 
blunting the eager edge of Louis's curiosity, and 
among his engineering experiences none pleased 
him more than descending in diver's dress to the 
foundation of the harbour that was being formed. 
He enjoyed that submarine visit, and in Random 
Memories he has given us a glimpse of what he 
viewed out of the distorted-eyed helmet. During 
this walk with the guide he had bribed to accom- 
pany him, he swayed like a weed, and had dizzy, 
muddleheaded joy in his surroundings, grabbing 
at the fish which darted past him. * This ex- 
perience was,' he says, * one of the best things 
I got from my education as an engineer.' The 
outdoor side of engineering life found favour in 
his sight, but he complains that he or others 
* with a memory full of ships and seas and peril- 
ous headlands and the shining pharos, must 
apply his long-sighted eyes to the petty niceties 
of drawing, or measure his inaccurate mind with 
several pages of consecutive figures.' The most 
comfortable gold-lined office would not tempt 
this freedom-loving youth within its doors. 

His meagre attention to his engineering studies 
came to his father's ears. Mr. Stevenson was 
annoyed, too, at his son's rapidly developed 
Bohemianism. Louis, suffering from an inquisi- 

i66 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

tiveness which often led him into mischief, had 
a fancy for all sorts of strange amusements and 
associates. He rebelled against all orthodox en- 
tertainments, and could seldom be cajoled into 
dress clothes, or persuaded to mix with his equals 
in age and social standing. He would not even 
dress himself in a seemly style. Nothing but 
the oddest, shabbiest garments, peculiar in cut 
and colour, would he figure in. His father con- 
formed to rules and conventionalities in a peace- 
able, law-abiding manner. His aim was to avoid 
attracting observation, as he was wishful to go 
about his business as unostentatiously as pos- 
sible. Louis's tastes were in striking antipathy 
to those of his quiet father, for Louis was vain, 
although he was not conceited. He weighed and 
judged his intellectual powers and faults with a 
searching saneness, and his gifts, his achieve- 
ments, his honours, never made him vain. It 
was a forgivable vanity his. It grew out of a 
wish to be appreciated and pleasant. One sees 
its like in children. They will seize a tea cosy 
and put it on their heads, or don a pair of 
spectacles and march into a room, brimful of 
expectancy at the laugh they hope will greet 
them. Louis's vanity was such that one can 
only smile at it, it is so innocently apparent. 

167 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

Louis loved to give and receive surprises. His 
stepdaughter tells how he would pin in noticeable 
places, verses he had written as birthday or 
home-coming greetings. That was when his 
quaint whims were treasured as coming from a 
man of genius. In his Edinburgh days he made 
no verses, but in their place his puerile affecta- 
tion of oddness was his ruse to attract attention. 
He and Professor Blackie were somewhat akin 
in their childish stratagems to feed their child- 
like vanity. They both became enamoured of 
their eccentricities, which sprang in both cases 
from the same peculiar state of mind . The Greek 
professor's well-known plaid in which he paraded 
Princes Street, the straw hat and dressing-gown 
he wore in his home, were very becoming cos- 
tumes, much more pleasing than those of his 
truant student with his incongruously assorted 
habiliments. These two Scotsmen had a gay 
Gallic vein in them which made them overleap 
national shyness, and this ingenuous vanity and 
the irresponsible playfulness in their sunshiny 
natures made them play a rdle all their own. 

Louis, in a letter telegraphic in its brevity, 
gives a summary of this period of his life : ' I 
was educated for a civil engineer on my father's 
design, and was at the building of harbours and 

i68 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

lighthouses, and worked in a carpenter's shop 
and a brass foundry, and hung about wood- 
yards and the Hke. Then it came out I was 
learning nothing, and, on being tightly cross- 
questioned during a dreadful evening walk, I 
owned I cared for nothing but literature. My 
father said that was no profession, but I might 
be called to the Bar if I chose. At the age of 
twenty-one I began to study law.' That was 
doubtless a very dreadful evening walk, but 
people are apt too often to consider Thomas 
Stevenson a dense, short-sighted man for thus 
tiying to thwart his boy's wishes. A great deal 
has to be said on Mr. Stevenson senior's side. 
His wisdom in insisting on Louis becoming^ an 
advocate bore good fruit. It gave the plunging, 
restive youth, who was then an impetuous, un- 
broken colt, like to gallop himself lame with 
eagerness, a taste of the disciplining curb. It 
gave him a line of steadying, wholesome routine 
to follow, and meanwhile he had time to gain 
more tolerance and insight into his own as well 
as other people's natures. Mr. Stevenson was 
bitterly disappointed on that dreadful evening 
walk. He had helped to build a great and 
honoured business ; he wished his son to con- 
tinue in his solid, utilitarian profession. As a 

169 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

docile child Louis craved to be an engineer. 
When other children fixed on their future careers, 
little Lew vowed — 

' But I, when I am stronger and can choose what I 'm 
to do, 
O Leerie, I '11 go round at night and light the lamps 
with you.' 

He visited the harbours of Fife, when thirteen, 
with Mr. Stevenson. ' My first professional tour, 
my first journey in the complete character of man 
without the help of petticoats,' he proudly calls 
this visit to the golden fringe of the grey mantle 
of the kingdom of Fife. Louis enjoyed these ex- 
cursions with his father hugely. Mr. Stevenson's 
heart's desire was to see his son established in 
what had become an hereditary vocation in his 
family. Then, suddenly, he found he had a 
changeling child, who would wrest no vantage 
ground from the ocean, nor toil till he built on 
some wild shore a protective harbour or a tower 
flashing with an abiding warning light. He was 
determined to pursue that will-o'-the-wisp, litera- 
ture. From Vailima, in one of his last letters, 
Louis, recalling that sore fight with his father, 
and some of Mr. Stevenson's arguments in favour 
of his sure profession, says : * Were it not for 
my health, which made it impossible, I could 

170 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

not find it in my heart to forgive myself that I 
did not stick to an honest common-place trade 
when I was young, which might have supported 
me during these ill years. But you men with 
salaries don't know how a family weighs on a 
fellow's mind.* 

Sage old Johnson says, * WTien a man is young 
he thinks himself of great importance. As he 
advances in Hfe he learns to think himself of no 
consequence, and becomes more patient and 
better pleased.' 

Robert Louis Stevenson was wayward and im- 
patient, full of ' the gloom of youth,' in the days 
which culminated in that ' dreadful ' walk. 
Suave of tongue, kind of heart, as a rule sensi- 
tively shrinking from wounding any one, he 
flouted and ran counter to his father on many 
subjects with the inhuman selfishness of youth. 
The reser\'ed elder man was more pained than 
the fervid, agitating son. But they were closely 
bound together for all their antagonism. They 
had many a united talk, though it seemed to 
those who knew not their ways, a wordy war ; 
but, like wise men before them, they, * except m 
opinion,'' were not disagreeing, having, as a 
modern writer says, * the same immense ortho- 
doxy that lies beneath our differences.' 

171 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

Mrs. Stevenson was relieved, when her husband 
and son returned from that memorable evening 
confabulation, to find the storm which had been 
pending had broken and cleared the atmosphere. 
Mr. Stevenson held that none of Louis's juvenile 
efforts at writing, which his mother treasured, 
were of sufficient merit to justify his thinking of 
earning his bread by his pen. He hoped his 
readiness of speech might help him at the Bar. 
Sir Walter Scott averred his legal training had 
given him stability. He regarded literature as 
a crutch, not as a sole staff. Louis Stevenson 
liked the idea of following Scott, though he 
resolved literature would be his staff. It is 
curious that he, like Scott, learned much of sea- 
faring among the misty isles of the North. Louis 
journeyed in the Pharos, the Northern Lighthouse 
steamer. Louis's grandfather and Sir Walter 
had viewed the scenes of The Pirate in a voyage 
in 1 8 14 in the Pharos of that day. Mrs. Steven- 
son approved of the settlement of the vexed 
question. Many a literary man besides Scott 
had walked the boards of the Parliament House 
and been all the better man of letters for his 
legal training and standing. She, perhaps alone, 
knew how bitter a disappointment it was to her 
husband to have his only son refuse to become 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

heir to the business he had arduously and proudly 
enlarged. She, as usual, took a cheerful view of 
the future, pictured Louis a learned judge, as the 
mention of the pen as a staff irritated the engin- 
eer, and while she allayed her husband's heart- 
burnings she encouraged the son to begin his 
legal studies seriously, so as to earn time eventu- 
ally to proceed with his chosen profession, which 
his father persisted was no profession at all. 

Like Fleeming Jenkin, he held (till in each case 
Louis proved to them they were wrong) ' that 
literature was not a trade ; that it was no craft ; 
that the professed author was merely an amateur 
with a door-plate.' 

Louis recognized the fact that he had wounded 
his father on his tenderest point, that he had 
taken these wounds gallantly, and had advised 
wisely ; so to make amends he promised to do 
more than look into his law classes when he 
happened to pass that way. 

Before he was twenty-one Louis had weathered 
the heaviest equinoctial gale of his spring-time of 
Hfe ; and he now looked fonvard hopefully to the 
desert of the future, though his mother was the 
only one who believed, at that time, that he would 
turn that desert into an evergreen garden. 



^73 



LEARNING TO WRITE 



'75 



'The morning drum-call on my eager car 
Thrills unforgotten yet ; the morning dew 
Lies yet undried along my field of noon.' 

— Songs of I ravel. 



176 



CHAPTER VIII 

LEARNING TO WRITE 

' No one ever had such pains to learn a trade as 
I had, but I slogged at it day in day out, and 
I frankly believe (thanks to my dire industry) 
I have done more with smaller gifts than almost 
any man of letters in the world,' he wrote in 
1887. He began his apprenticeship to the art 
he adopted almost in babyhood, trying to put 
his thoughts into words when he had not very 
long gained the power of speech, and insisting 
on Cummy writing his gibberish. The History 
of Moses was his first comprehensible piece of 
composition ; then that was followed by Records 
of Noseingdale and the Sunbeam, and by 1864 
he had manuscripts in his Heriot Row den to 
consult over and show to his literary school 
friend. In these hobbledehoy days he wrote 
many ponderous works. In his thirteenth year, 
while on a tour to Fife with his father, he was 
full of excitement at the prospect of a drive over 
Magus Moor and of passing the spot where 

M »77 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

Archbishop Sharpe was murdered. Among the 
partakers in that deed Louis confesses ; ' The 
figure that always fixed my attention is that of 
Hackston of Rathillet, sitting in the saddle with 
his cloak about his inouth. An incident, at once 
romantic and dramatic, which awakes the judg- 
ment and makes a picture for the eye. How 
Httle do we reaHze its perdurable power ! Had 
he not thrown his cloak about his mouth, or had 
the witnesses forgot to chronicle the action, he 
would not have haunted the imagination of my 
boyhood. It is an old temptation with me to 
pluck away that cloak and see the face ; to 
open that bosom and read the heart. With 
incomplete romances about Hackston the drawers 
of my youth were lumbered.' In these years of 
preparation for a legal career his mind was set 
on literature. He determined to succeed in 
putting into fitting phrases the thoughts that 
welled up so freely. Great was his admiration 
of those who had succeeded. He says he played 
the ' sedulous ape ' to Hazlitt, Lamb, Words- 
worth, Sir Thomas Browne, Defoe, Hawthorne, 
and Montaigne. He called these trials at imita- 
tions * monkey tricks ' and * ventriloquial efforts.' 
' It was so Keats learned,' he says, ' and there 
never was a finer temperament in hterature.' 
178 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

Edinburgh being, as he notes, a town with the 
traffic congested into a few streets, residents oft- 
times encounter their fellow-townsmen. In 
Princes Street, Louis constantly observed Dr. 
John Brown strolling along, spectacled, benign, 
keenly but kindly eyeing the passers-by. The 
Doctor, in Louis's eyes, was never alone, for 
behind him stalked his immortal dog ' Rab.' 
Louis heartily envied the man who had created 
that faithful follower, for he had never studied 
the trade of writing ; but as Louis, speaking to 
him in his verses, notes : — 

' Your e'e was gleg, your fingers dink ; 
Ye didna fash yoursel' to think, 
But wove, as fast as puss can Hnk, 

Your denty wab ; 
Ye stapped your pen into the ink, 
An' there was Rab ! ' 

But Louis knew well that, as a rule, it took 
years of strife to make an author's 

* Things o' clay spreid wings o' hfe.' 

Another example of one who seemed to enjoy 

a heaven-born intuition how to wield a pleasing 

pen, had also limped cheerfully along Princes 

Street. Of Scott, Louis says, ' Of the pleasures 

of his art he tasted fully ; but of its toils and 

179 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

vigils and distresses never man knew less. A 
great romantic — an idle child.' 

Freakish and fitful as Louis was, he realized 
from the first it was not chance that would help 
him into the foremost ranks. Some he knew 
would spend years seeking for the four-leaved 
clover, the coveted key to the gates of fortune, 
while others would plough and sow till they had 
a field of four-leaved clovers. These workers 
trusted not to luck, but to labour ; for, as Mark 
Twain says, in one of his serious moments, 
* There is many a way to win in this world, but 
none of them is much worth without good hard 
work to back it.* 

In a * College Magazine,* Louis describes how 
he, the seemingly consistent pattern idler in his 
dronish wanderings, was in reality always busy, 
for he was armed with two books — one to read 
and one to write in. * It was not so much,' he 
says, * that I wished to be an author (though I 
wished that too), as that I vowed that I would 
learn to write. That was a proficiency that 
tempted me, and I practised to acquire it, as 
men learn to whistle, in a wager with myself.' 
He persevered till he said, * he had legions of 
words swarming to his call, dozens of turns of 
phrase simultaneously bidding for his choice, 

1 80 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

and he himself knowing what he wants to do 
and (within the narrow limit of a man's ability) 
able to do it.' 

In 1873 he made the acquaintance of Sidney 
Colvin, who became his adviser and critic in 
literature, and who introduced him to some in- 
fluential editors. -Louis's first paper was pub- 
lished in The Portfolio. The essay was entitled 
' Roads,' and was signed L. S. Stoneven. His 
second, 'Ordered South,' written the same 
winter at Mentone, appeared in Macmillan's 
Magazine. This article, founded on fact, for his 
health sent him abroad, took him three months 
to write, for he was still an apprentice, and even 
when a master craftsman he would write and 
re-write with laborious patience. * Whole chap- 
ters of Otto/ he tells us, * were written as often as 
five or six times.' Mrs. Fleeming Jenkin was 
living at Bournemouth when Louis was writing 
her husband's memoir. * I used,' she says, * to 
go to his room in the afternoon after tea, and 
tell him all I could remember of certain times 
and circumstances. He would Hsten intently, 
every now and then checking me while he made 
a short note, or asking me to repeat or amplify 
what I had said, if it had not been quite clear. 
Next morning I went to him again, and he read 

x8i 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

aloud to me what he had written — my two hours 
of talk compressed into a page, and yet it seemed 
to me all there, all expressed. He would make 
me note what he had written, word by word, 
asking me, " Does this express quite exactly 
what you mean ? " Sometimes he offered me 
alternative words, " Does this express it more 
truly ? " If I objected to any sentence as not 
conveying my meaning, he would alter it again 
and again, unwearied in taking pains.' Will o 
the Mill was th^ first story he ventured to 
reprint. The scenery in it was in part a remem- 
brance of the Brenner Pass, in the Tyrol, which 
he had crossed when twelve. As a boy, he 
must have studied his surroundings, and with 
his artistic perceptions all awake, decided it 
would make a telling scenic effect when he 
would stage a romance to suit it. His father 
complained that Louis did not use the eyes God 
had given him, but was gazing at trivialities, 
while the engineer was observing the forceful 
action of the Tweed, and considering how best 
it could be yoked to work for human good. 
While Thomas Stevenson's sight had been trained 
to ' pore over the engineer's voluminous handy 
book of nature,' his son's brown eyes w^ere 
noting vital trifles from a different line of vision, 
1S2 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

and his observ^ations were vivid and lasting. 
Like the true artist he was, he was ever busy 
taking sketches from nature, which he stowed 
away in his memory, and had the happy knack 
of finding again when he wished to work them 
into his bigger canvas. John Todd's tales of 
how he took his flocks across the border, by 
these inviting by-ways, the now deserted old 
drove loans, of the perils of the journey, Louis 
listened to in the Pentlands, and these reminis- 
cences enabled him to put the audacious Anne 
St. Ives under a reliable escort when he left the 
shelter of Swanston. 

Wlien Louis Stevenson promised his father to 
qualify for the Bar, he knew he could find ample 
time conscientiously to pursue his legal studies ; 
also devote many hours to his self-elected avoca- 
tion — ^learning to write. He did not care for 
out-of-door relaxations. His pursuit of pleasure 
kept him house-bound, for reading and writing 
were his recreations. When cringing with cold, 
he gave it as his opinion, * Life does not appear 
to me to be an amusement adapted to this 
weather.' He found it was less bleak when the 
haggard wintry day was done, and the lamps 
shone on the rainy streets more warmly than the 
weakly sun. Then, in the gloaming, when the 

183 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

castle and the hills were limned against the 
pale indigo sky, Robert Louis Stevenson took 
his walks abroad. If a flaw of sunshine came 
amid the prevailing bleakness of winter, he 
exulted in its rays, and went forth gay and 
lively, ready to frolic or bask in the sunlight. 
' To travel hopefully is a better thing than to 
arrive,' he said. The seemingly toilsome work 
to which he had apprenticed himself, cheered 
him light-heartedly on his way. ' To have 
many aspirations is to be spiritually rich,' he 
said, and believing that to be the case, he was 
the richest of millionaires. 

Much time as he gave to his literary studies, 
he did not neglect his promise to his father. 
His legal coach, now a professor in the Edin- 
burgh University, speaking of him lately, said 
he found him an alert, interested, but, at the 
same time, an erratic pupil. While expounding 
to Louis some point which he ought to impress 
on his memor}% Louis's capricious attention had 
been riveted by some minor detail, — maybe it 
was the history of the maker of the law, — and, 
before he would continue his dry-as-dust study, 
he would concentrate his energy on unearthing 
some biographical fact, or in clothing some legal 
quibble with a bright thread or two from the 

184 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

web of his fancy. His note-book was never out 
of his hand. * Wait, I '11 jot that down in my 
own words,' he would say, or ' What was that 
you said I must not forget ? I had better note 
it too.' His coach assured him he had a mastery 
of his subject, and Louis smiled dehghtedly. 
He then thought it would be as well to have two 
strings to his bow. 

' I want to succeed at the Bar,' he said 
earnestly. * Do you really think I am likely 
to?' 

' We '11 hear you yet before the First Division,' 
his tutor was saying, when the excitable Louis 
sprang up, holding out his hands to stop him. 

' Oh, don't,' he cried, * don't please even 
speak of such a thing ; I 'd rather face death 
a thousand times than stand up before these 
heavy-wigged, red-robed solemnities. Euch ! 
The veriest thought of such a thing makes me 
shiver to the marrow of my bones ' ; and he 
huddled himself into a pitiable, teeth-chattering 
object, shaking his hair over his face, and sank 
down, as if limp with horror, into a seat. Then 
rising, he strode nerv^ously up and down the room, 
enlarging, with that voluble speech of his, on 
his shyness, w^hich, he said, no one beheved in. 
' I hate publicity ; I dread publicity ; I simply 

185 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

could not stand up and plead.' This was a true 
statement, for his cousin says, * After passing 
the examination for the Scottish Bar, he appeared 
in the Parliament House with his wig and gown, 
and here a tale is told of his first case. He had 
merely, at a particular time, to appear before 
the Judge, and intimate some preliminary step 
in a case ; but when the time came, his heart 
seemed to recoil from the necessary- phraseology, 
and he had to get a brother la\\ycr to say the 
short sentence necessary.* In a private room 
Louis was the best of speakers, no matter what 
subject was being discussed ; but even at the 
* Speculative,' when called on to wag his usually 
almost too ready tongue, his delivery^ was poor, 
though he had no lack of words ; the circling 
action of his hands, which were as part of his 
speech, had to be curtailed, for if indulged in 
on a platform the exaggerated flourishes moved 
the audience to laughter. Ridicule was to Louis 
a deadly weapon. He was fitted with no armour 
against its poignancy. Before it he stood un- 
armed and naked. His harmless, naive vanity 
was specially liable to hurts by ridicule. Never 
having associated much with other children, he 
had not early run the gauntlet of the cruelly 
candid speech, the ingenious modes of teasing 

1 86 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

which they indulge in, and to which they become 
case-hardened. Louis, with an overbalance of 
sensitiveness, was always touchily thin-skinned. 
He could not bear pubHcity. A platform noto- 
riety he shrank from in terror, though he liked 
to create a sensation in a roomful of friends. 
Although he had the type of face we often see 
in distinguished actors, and for all his poor 
physique had a grace of carriage, he would never 
have shone on the stage ; for an unsympathetic 
audience, a cold reception, not to speak of a 
hiss, would have sent him flying to the wings 
in ner\'ous despair. 

He was fond of private theatricals. It was 
the one social amusement he was keen to partici- 
pate in. He took particular deHght in those 
arranged by Prof. Fleeming Jenkin, but he was 
well drilled into his role, and never had a very 
prominent part to play. He had attended Pro- 
fessor Jenkin's classes during the * vast pleasantr^^ 
of his curriculum ' at Edinburgh University. 
He could not in the professor of engineering's 
soul-chiUing classroom solace himself with rest- 
less inattention as was his wont, for the professor, 
' cocking his head like a terrier, with ever}^ mark 
of the most engaging vivacity and readiness,* 
fixed an arresting eye on the youth. When he 

187 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

came to beg this professor for a certificate of 
attendance, he was refused. Louis had played 
the truant to excess in his engineering studies. 
Professor Blackie, when asked for a Hke certifi- 
cate, had looked at this student, noted for the 
first time his unique look, and remarked that his 
face was not familiar to him. At this uninten- 
tional sarcasm Louis smiled, and the Greek 
professor, liking sunny looks, smiled back, as he 
amiably signed his name. Fleeming Jenkin was 
not to be so readily cajoled, and informed his 
erring pupil, who had lost many opportunities 
for orthodox study, ' You are no fool, and you 
chose your course.' But the conscientious pro- 
fessor and the truant pupil became firm allies 
when Louis had given in his decision at head- 
quarters as to his resolution not to be an engin- 
eer. This friendship was fraught with much 
good for Louis. He v/as still among the ' coiled 
perplexities of youth,' and Fleeming Jenkin, 
from his years and experience and sympathy, 
showed him how to straighten out some of the 
tangled skein. 

They mutually appreciated an opponent who 
would fight a well-parried duel of argument. 
They had many tastes, many disHkes, in com- 
mon. Both delighted in the heroics, in hearing 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

of valiant deeds, of ennobling thoughts. Both 
found them stimulating. Both disliked golf, 
and golf, says Louis, ' is a cardinal virtue in 
the City of the Winds.' Nor did either of 
them become an archer of the Queen's Body- 
guard, * which is the Chiltem Hundreds of the 
distasted golfer.' Both were lovers of the stage. 
The play that Fleeming Jenkin put on the boards 
once a year gave to a certain coterie ' a long and 
an exciting holiday in mirthful company.' 

Mrs. Stevenson was pleased that her son, who 
cared little for respectable company and for none 
of Edinburgh's social gatherings, but railed un- 
ceasingly at the buckram of a comfortable 
citizen's life, had found a West-End house to 
his taste, and she was glad of the warm friend- 
ship which sprang up between the professor and 
her boy. The professor had a good influence 
over Robert Louis Stevenson when he was still 
supple and immature enough to bend and improve 
under a training hand. * I remember,' records 
Louis, * taking his advice upon some point of 
conduct. " Now," said he, " how do you sup- 
pose Christ would have advised you ? " and 
when I had answered that He would not have 
counselled me anything unkind or cowardly — 
** No," he said, with one of his shrewd strokes 

189 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

at the weakness of his hearer, " nor anything 
amusing." ' This frankly acknowledged weak- 
ness led Louis into many flippant perversions ; 
his * tricksy mocking ' look bore fruit in words. 
Professor Jenkin reminded Louis when he was 
in a critical humour, picking holes in other 
people's work, that, in Professor Blackie's words, 
' All criticism worthy of the name is the ripe fruit 
of combined intellectual insight and long experi- 
ence. Only an old soldier can tell how battles 
ought to be fought. There is no more sure sign 
of a shallow mind than the habit of seeing always 
the ludicrous side of things.' 

Stevenson, in these embr\'o days, before he 
had done any recognized work, was harder in 
his judgments than when his opinion was of 
weight. His essay on Burns is a sample of his 
sneeringly severe criticisms. He expressed a 
wish when in \'ailima that he could re-WTite his 
paper on Robert Young, for, as he says, ' His 
profile was blurred in the boyish sketch. I should 
like well to draw him again with a maturer touch.' 
He would have re-focussed Burns, too, for the 
tooth of time gnawed away the hardness of youth, 
and made him ' more gently scan his brother 
man.* Stevenson sketched Robert Burns in his 
untrained days, when he, who never had a sorrow 

190 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

in his life, could not enter into the tragedy of 
convivial Burns. Carlyle realized the tragedy, 
and drew him as only a finished artist can. 
WTien Louis had won his spurs, he looked on 
the work of his fellow-knights, of those still in 
the ranks, with the most lenient of eyes. 

Louis Stevenson, though amenable to advice 
and snubbing, if administered judiciously by those 
he held not in awe but in respect, had very de- 
cided opinions of his own, which he aired and 
defended, not only among those of his age, but, 
and what was ver}^ prejudicial to him, in the 
face of his elders. Hearing him fearlessly attack 
some reverend senior's pet foible, unsparing in 
his thrusts, many would think young Stevenson 
was contentious and uplifted, but when he came 
to his own merits he was the most modest and 
unbragging of youths. He seldom spoke un- 
kindly of any one. If others did so in his 
presence, love of battle and justice made him 
at once the champion of those attacked. This 
desire to war in words whenever chance offered, 
to advocate theories, or contradict other folks, 
certainly made him unpopular among those who 
did not know him well. He remarked : * I was 
a ver>' humble-minded youth, though it was a 
virtue I never had much credit for.' 

191 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

He was a lonely student. He had compara- 
tively few acquaintances of his own age when he 
left school. Mr. Baildon describes how he was 
smuggled into Heriot Row, or met his friend in 
the gardens, when they were schoolmates. To 
' make believe ' their scribbling tastes and talk 
were contraband was like Louis, and he pre- 
ferred to smuggle his literary^ friend into his 
home, as such a proceeding had an air of mystery 
about it which was attractive. However, when 
his law studies had begun, he took a less critical 
view of cver>'body and ever>'thing, and lithesome- 
ness of spirits bubbled up in him. When free 
from the fear of routine on an office stool, he 
began to find that his contemporaries, grown out 
of the uninviting manners of their boyhood, 
were polished and accomplished men whose 
friendship was worth cultivating. The Specu- 
lative Society brought him into intimate acquaint- 
ance with its members. He speaks lovingly of 
it in some of his early papers, and in the intro- 
duction to Kidnapped. Archie Weir was a mem- 
ber of this august debating society — an ancient 
and conservative body. It had comfortable 
rooms within the University, and Louis liked 
the olden customs it held to ; its objections, 
for instance, to such innovations as gas, and 

192 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

it adhered to its huge candelabrum of wax 
lights. 

In the early seventies Louis was twice presi- 
dent of the * Speculative.' He wrote several 
papers for this society : * The Influence of the 
Covenanting Persecution on the Scottish Mind ' 
(1871) ; 'Notes on Paradise Lost' (1872) ; 'Notes 
on the Nineteenth Century ' and ' Two Ques- 
tions on the Relations between Christ's Teach- 
ing and Modern Christianity ' (1873) J * Law 
and Free Will — Notes on the Duke of Argyll.' 
* Speculative evenings,' he said, * form pretty 
salient milestones on our intellectual journey ; 
looking back along mine, I see a good deal of 
distance got over — whether well or ill I am 
not here to judge.' He tells how, after his 
introductory evening there, he made a speech 
in a state of * nervous exaltation that we have 
no language strong enough to describe. My 
electricity,* he says, * seemed negative. I had 
no common interests with the others, no old 
stories to retell, any remark was a hazardous 
experiment ; and I ended my night by walking 
home alone, in the blackness of despondency. 
How I should have laughed any one to scorn 
who had stopped me then on the Bridges and 
told me that I should spend in that Society 
N 193 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

some of the happiest hours of my life, and make 
friends from among those very members who 
were now so forbiddingly polite ! ' This quota- 
tion is from his Valedictory- x^ddress, given in 
March 1872. In it he indulged in some specula- 
tion as to great writers who might arise from 
among those present now, such as * The Spec' 
had cradled in former years, for famous men had 
been among its members. No one thought that 
the frail, boyish composer of that speech would 
ever be more than a dilettante in the profession 
of letters — an advocate with private means, no 
inclination to practise, and a leaning towards 
literature. * And who knows, gentlemen, with 
what Scotts or Jeffreys we may have been sharing 
this meeting-hall, about what great man we shall 
have curious anecdotes to tell over dining-tables, 
and write to their biographers in a fine, shaky 
octogenarian hand ? We shall have many stories, 
too, of fellow-members who did not come to the 
surface in after hfe, but, it maybe, went straight- 
way to the bottom — many "vivas to those who 
have failed and to those whose war vessels sank 
in the sea." Yes, if we should have here some 
budding Scott, or if the new Shakespeare should 
here be incubating his fine parts, we shall all, 
gentlemen, have a hand in the finished article — 
194 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

some thoughts of ours, or at least some way of 
thinking, will have taken hold upon his mind, 
some seasonable repartee, some happy word, will 
have fallen into the ''good soil " of his genius, 
and will afterwards bring forth an hundredfold! 
We shall all have had a hand, I repeat, at making 
that Shakespeare or that Scott.' 

While he figured constantly at the ' Spec.,' and 
was a sought-for guest at the members' dinners, 
* L. S. Stoneven ' had not written again, but 
papers were appearing in the Cornhill and else- 
where signed 'R. L. S.' In the Speculative 
Society Roll Book he signed himself Robert 
Louis Stevenson, and in a note states what his 
baptismal name really was. At that time he 
wrote to the ' Spec' secretary a letter of four 
pages of comic pomposity, giving his reasons for 
diverging from his registered one of Lewis Bal- 
four, and announcing his intention to make that 
of ' Robert Louis ' famous. 

How well he succeeded is recorded in the His- 
tory of Our Omn Times. Mr. Justin Macarthy 
thus sums up his work : ' Stevenson, judged 
impartially by his own works, was undoubtedly 
one of the greatest English writers during the 
latter part of the nineteenth century. He stole 
quietly into the world of fame. He endeared 

»95 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON 

himself to the whole of the reading public of 
English-speaking countries. His work was al- 
ways essentially his own inspiration, and was 
carried out by his own mode of treatment. He 
created situations rather than characters, but 
when he set about drawing a character he drew 
with the firm and steady hand of a master. 
There was nothing oblique or vague about him. 
What he saw he saw, and what he saw he could 
describe. If that is not to be an artist, then we, 
at least, have no idea what an artist is.* 



196 



LEGAL AND LITERARY TRAINING 



197 



'The powers and the ground of friendship are a mystery, but 
looking back I can discern in part we loved the thing he was, 
for some shadow of what he was to be' 

—Memories and Portraits. 



X98 



CHAPTER IX 

LEGAL AND LITERARY TRAINING 

Rapidly, in these years of legal study, he was 
obtaining more and more the command of fluent 
expression in language, for he says, * As I walked, 
my mind was busy fitting what I saw with ap- 
propriate words ; when I sat by the roadside I 
would either read, or a pencil and a penny version 
book would be in my hand, to note down the 
features of the scene, or commemorate some halt- 
ing stanzas. Thus I lived with words.' The 
result of this close communion with words is to 
be found in the various papers he contributed to 
Cornhill, papers which have since become famous 
in collected form as Virginihus Puerisque. They 
were, he said, like * milestones on the wayside 
of my life.* To those who knew him in these 
past days to re-read them is to travel again 
the same road in the same good company. It 
was early in the seventies that we first knew 
Robert Louis Stevenson, for though we had been 
nearly opposite neighbours all our lives, watch- 

199 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

ing the same Leerie light the lamps, he never 
chanced to play in the division of gardens which 
we patronized, nor did he live much in Heriot 
Row in spring or summer, when the green 
grounds became the meeting-place of neighbour- 
ing children. His square of gardens had for a 
centre-piece a pond, our envy. In the middle 
of this circular scrap of water is a very limited 
and rocky islet. Wlien we told Louis how we 
had coveted that pond he sympathized. He said 
he had longed to invade that mimic eyot, and 
he had to wait till frost paved a way. He in 
turn envied our pleasaunce when we recounted 
to him the joys we had had from the making of 
* posies.' They were not bouquets of flowers, as 
their names might lead one unversed to suppose, 
but holes dug in the grass and cunningly covered 
over with turf, so that it needed a trained eye 
to discover the site of the pit. In these posies, 
which were usually made at some hour when the 
gardens were empty, were put * peeries,' marbles, 
or our favourite tin soldiers. The owners rose 
betimes to see if their hidden treasure was still 
secure. Once, some good fair>^ put sixpence into 
a posie, and much astonished was the recipient. 
Louis would have committed all his worldly 
wealth to the earth if he had dug one. There 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

was a secretiveness and a pleasurable anxiety 
about posies which our vivacious friend gauged, 
though he did not hear of them until he was 
out of his teens. 

Wlien Louis was a sleepless boy, Cummy used 
to pull aside the blind and show him Queen 
Street, on a higher terrace opposite, across what 
he called ' the great gulf of darkness,' made by 
the Heriot Row gardens. Its street lamps shone 
reassuringly, and Louis, wondering if there were 
any other children denied the gift of sleep, noted 
there was one house opposite where a light burned 
every night. 

He felt a consoling companionship in that 
gleam which came from our old home, 52 Queen 
Street. My father burned the midnight oil in 
his room high up in that once busy house, for 
night was the only opportunity he had, in the 
toilful twenty-four hours, to read and study. 
Ten years before the time when Louis tossed 
restless with fever, hearing all night * the wind 
intone ' in that house, early one morning, after 
much search, my father found the blessed 
anaesthetic qualities of chloroform, and was 
lulled by this syrup of sleep into controllable 
unconsciousness for the first time. In 1870 our 

old home at Queen Street was broken up by 

201 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

the death of our parents, and we moved to a 
smaller house not very far distant. Mutual law 
studies and the Speculative brought Louis and 
my brother together. * The Republic/ R. L. S. 
called our new abode, where the members were 
of an independent equality, which seemed to 
Louis a preferable arrangement to the shackles 
of monarchical ties, for at that period he owns, 
' the unrejoicing faces of his elders filled him 
with contemptuous surprise.* He would air his 
convictions with uncurbed freedom in the re- 
public, where there was no one oppressed and 
sage with the weight of years to damp his ardour 
by telling him he babbled nonsense. As he him- 
self said, he heard his voice echo years after 'in 
the empty vestibule of youth.' He would fre- 
quently drop in to dinner with us, and of an 
evening he had the run of the smoking-room. 
After ten p.m., when a stern old servant, who 
held by monarchical discipline, and kept a watch- 
ful guard over the republic, went to rest, the 
* open sesame ' to our door was a rattle on the 
letter-box. Louis's fancy for the mysterious was 
whetted by this admittance by secret sign, and 
we liked his special rat-a-tat, for it was the fore- 
runner of an hour or two of talk which he de- 
scribed as * the harmonious speech of two or 
202 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

more/ by far the most accessible of pleasures, 
and the society talk of even the most brilliant 
man is of greatly less account than what you will 
get from him (as the French say) in a ' little 
committee.' His studies, his notions, his hopes, 
he described with a nimble tongue which he 
accentuated by his flourishing actions, the 
' speaking gestures ' of his thin, nervously 
formed hands. He often marvelled that these 
hands were not taken into consideration when 
he was an amateur emigrant, and was mistaken 
for everything under the sun except an educated 
gentleman. He says, his fellow-passengers, who 
classed him as a working-man seeking occupation 
and health in a new world, did not observe his 
hands, for the only tool they could hold was the 
pen. Then he was ' always supposing.' As a 
* callant ' at college, one of his fellow-students 
says, as they walked out into the muddy-streeted, 
cold town, he varied the monotony of the way 
down to Princes Street by ' supposings.' ' If 
you were walking along the street with him,' 
wrote this companion, ' and the most trivial 
thing struck his eye, he would start supposing ; 
in fact, there was no end to his supposing, and 
I suppose that is how he got to the top of the tree 

in fiction/ 

«03 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

Others who came into the * little committee ' 

by our library hearth might be tired, depressed, 

and sit still, enjoying a consoling pipe. Louis 

never was glum. He might be in the depth of 

dejection, but it was such magnified drooping of 

body and soul as to be farcical. Then, when 

laughter greeted him, the grotesque sombreness 

dispersed like a cloud before sunshine, and he 

threw off his cut-throat-looking Spanish cloak, 

stood erect with a smile hovering about his long 

eyes, as well as on his tricksy mouth. Quiet he 

never remained. He could not resist putting in 

a word. Still, for all his love of talking, he was 

also a good listener, never showing boredom, and 

anxious to grasp the meaning of other speakers, 

assisting with tactful and sympathetic interest 

from out of his own overflowing vocabulary'. He 

was always ready to add to his list of words, or 

glean insight from his friends' notions. If others 

were silent, he had a perfect cataract of thoughts, 

of supposings, to pour out, and he seized the 

opportunity to clothe them in words befitting his 

fastidious taste. Full of perpetual motion, and 

for ever walking up and down as he spoke, or 

adding action to his words, never sitting placidly 

still, his constant unrest was not distracting or 

annoying. He flitted about with a womanly 
204 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

cunning, never stumbled over a stool, upbraided 
an unoffending sofa for being in the road, or 
committed the heinous crime of treading on the 
dogs. He might pace up and down, jump up as 
if electrified to expound some fresh frolicsome 
fancy, but our mastiff and other dogs remained 
unconcerned, for they had learned that he would 
gingerly pick his steps among their paws, and 
there was no necessity to move from the warmest 
vantage ground on the rug, or prepare to lay 
hold of a disturbing element in the shape of 
a leg, a defence against aggressive feet which 
was permitted to our veteran terrier by reason 
of his toothlessness. 

Louis's outlandishness of dress, his manner- 
isms, his frenchified flourishing of his hands, and 
his transparent modes of attracting attention, 
used to come in for derisive condemnation. We 
observ-ed that he employed particular Steven- 
sonian stratagems in order never to remain long 
in the background. If the ceaseless ability he 
displayed in wagging that easily set-agoing 
tongue of his did not make any impression on 
his hearers, if his prominent position in front 
of fire with his cigarette, more waved in semi- 
circles as he chattered than legitimately smoked, 

drew on him no special notice or remark, or 

205 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

purposely to bait him, his most pronounced 
eccentricities passed unheeded, he cast his fertile 
mind about to devise means to bring himself 
to the fore. One rare occasion, when he had on 
a dress coat, and came in to us on his way 
home, he gravely asked leave to take off his 
swallow-tail and sit in his shirt-sleeves. This 
was really more a ruse to bring himself before 
the ' little committee ' than to ease himself of 
the garment which he vowed oppressed him, 
for when leave was granted, no astonishment 
expressed, and his coat folded with laudable 
carefulness and relegated to a back seat, a 
shadow of such evident chagrin flitted over his 
face that it was all that the plotters could do 
to refrain from laughing, and so encourage their 
victim. For all these whimsical mannerisms 
he had to endure a deal of taunting. He pro- 
tested against the injustice of our accusations, 
but he never took offence at them, though he 
defended himself in a manner which should 
have done him honour if he had pled as well 
before his dreaded Lords of Session. It did not 
become a youth of his years, we held, to dress 
in such a mountebankish style. 

Professor Blackie, for instance, because of his 

silver locks and his recognized and honoured 
206 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

position, could, without mockery, wear a plaid 
over a frock-coat, and march along Princes 
Street beating time with his famed kail runt 
staff to the Songs of the North he crooned as he 
went. Strangers turned and gazed at the pictur- 
esque professor, and that was perhaps what he 
wanted. But we explained to Stevenson that 
it was forward audaciousness on his part to affect 
lank locks, slouch hat, and garments so incon- 
gruous and shabby as to be remarkable. * He 
always wore his hair long, and frequently looked 
anything but groomed, but one mental picture 
is indehbly printed in my mind : a flannel shirt, 
not over clean, a black and white straw hat 
that was well ventilated and had seen much 
service, no waistcoat, but round his middle a 
red and black scarf with two ends hanging down 
behind and showing just below the skirt of his 
jacket, the scarf functioning both as a " cummer- 
band " and also in lieu of suspenders,' a con- 
temporary and friend wrote of him at Hyeres. 
His clothes in his Edinburgh days were not much, 
if any, better. His flannel shirts attracted the 
smuts of wintry weather. In vain his com- 
panions showed how starched linen withstood 
the assaults of grime. In Edinburgh he could 
not rid himself of a waistcoat, but an overcoat, 

207 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

such as his friends sheltered themselves beneath 
in winter, was, we said, what he ought to wear. 
The cloak he preferred, to the handier garment 
suggested, was not suited for him of all people, 
delicate chested as he was. Such a cloak, too, 
in a wind-swept city like Auld Reekie was 
dangerously draughty. 

Nothing annoyed him more than our state- 
ment that his curious taste in dress, which made 
him appear a starveling play actor, was an eccen- 
tricity he cultivated to draw attention to his 
genius. Wlien his uncut hair hung below his 
newly donned advocate's wig, he heard a hearty 
laugh as he, for the first time, ' added to the 
interminable patter of legal feet ' in the Parlia- 
ment House. It excited his curiosity. He asked 
the reason. It was explained to him that an 
inquiring legal senior had asked, as Robert Louis 
Stevenson passed, who was * the marvellous boy, 
the new Chatterton ' ? That name, received 
from the ready legal jester, was nearly the 
means of persuading him to go and have his 
hair fashionably shorn. 

Teasing jibes, which he received in a bountiful 
supply, were, he was told, for his ultimate good. 
If he had been brought up with a band of 
brothers, these small conceits would have been 

2o8 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

nipped in the bud in the nursery. He was told 
he should be grateful for home truths, but after 
a severe shower of chaff he would sadly throw 
away his cigarette, wind himself in his cloak, 
and go off with an elaborate bow and with a 
tragic droop of his sombrely shrouded form. To 
his credit be it said, he bore no ill-will. Next 
evening he would return exultant over some new 
suggestion he had to make. 

It was always a source of wonderment, and 
no inquisitorial cross-questioning could extract 
the information, why Louis's clothes were never 
seen with the gloss of newness on them. They 
were always worn where his angular joints were 
traceable through the cloth. He scorned to reply 
when asked at what pawnshop he acquired them 
in this second-hand condition. His excessive 
attenuation gave the idea that he had a scarcity 
of under-garments on below his rubbed velveteen 
and the poverty-stricken trousers. He looked 
like a skeleton draped in a sheet. One winter 
he wore flannel shirts and turned-down collars 
to match, so funereal in colour that he was usually 
credited with committing the crime of walking 
in Princes Street with black shirts. He vowed 
they were blue, but the blue was of a coal-like 
shade. When he first appeared in our library 
o 209 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

wearing one of them, he was flattered with the 
commotion it created. It certainly added to his 
vagabondish appearance. He expounded its 
merits for a crusoeing expedition. For instance, 
it would never look soiled, he said, forgetful that 
it never looked clean. The suggestion that he 
should visibly number, or have various different 
designs embroidered on them, so as to let anxious 
friends know when he assumed a fresh one, 
damped his delight in them. A skull and cross- 
bones was thought of as a fitting emblem for one 
piratical shirt. He had been radiant over this 
new freak in his wardrobe, but he was so railed 
at that he left in high dudgeon, buttoning his 
docked velveteen jacket over the offending gar- 
ment. Twice he was seen in conventional, brand- 
new suits. He looked well in them, for the tailors 
artfully banished for once his poorly fed, poorly 
clad appearance. He always had a starving-of- 
cold look, for with his contracted chest and 
huddled-up shoulders he seemed to gather him- 
self together for warmth. Mrs. Stevenson ap- 
proved of her son's Samoan photographs. He 
turned over a new leaf in smartness as to dress 
in Vailima, for he writes : * I am now very 
dandy ; I announced two \'ears ago that I should 
change. Slovenly youth all right — not slovenly 

2IO 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

age. So really now I 'm pretty spruce ; always 
a white shirt, white necktie, fresh shave, silk 
socks ; oh ! a great sight.' In his loose flannels, 
and standing erect before the camera, he looked 
more vigorous and broader than his wont. Mr. 
Payn, in the introduction to Miss Eraser's In 
Stevenson's Samoa, speaking of a group at 
Vailima, says, * In the frontispiece I recognise 
at once the commanding figure of my old friend 
standing by his horse.' In my recollection Louis 
was never commanding. To use a Scotch word, 
for which there is no English equivalent, he 
had a ' shilpit ' look, which is starveling, crined, 
ill-thriven, all in one and more. 

Both his father and mother had a fine, com- 
manding presence : Mr. Stevenson square and 
massive, Mrs. Stevenson upright and elegant ; 
but Louis had a timid, almost apologetic air. 
So much so that when he used to come in with 
his head bent forward, glancing alertly from 
side to side, and treading with a stealthy care- 
fulness, one of our family dubbed him the 
'guinea fowl.' On other occasions he would 
enter, flinging the door wide open, stepping 
springingly, his hands uplifted, as if he were the 
forerunner of some triumphant procession. Not- 
withstanding his spidery figure, his badly knitted, 

SIX 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

weedy frame, he moved with a quiet quickness, 
and stood with such a lithe ease of pose that he 
struck one as graceful. 

He suffered for his grotesque taste in dress 
when abroad. He was for ever being arrested. 
* For the life of me I cannot understand it,' 
he exclaims, after enumerating some woes, how 
travelling without a passport he was ' cast, with- 
out any figure about the matter, into noisome 
dungeons ' ; how, even with a passport, no offi- 
cial would believe him to be a Briton. Mistaken 
for a pedlar, he was refused admittance at inns. 
As a spy he was stopped at frontiers, and there 
is no absurd and disreputable means of livelihood 
but has been attributed to him in some heat of 
official or popular distrust. 

When going Across the Plains, two men on 
the cars had a bet as to whether he was an out- 
of-work musician or no ; and one, to put his sug- 
gestion to the test, offered him a place in the 
orchestra of a local theatre. This manager lost 
five dollars by his wrong guess, and Louis says, 
* liquated the debt at the bar.' He owns in the 
Epilogue of the Inland Voyage, when the travel- 
lers set out on a fresh tour on foot, that he was 
unwisely dressed. He had an Indian embroidered 
smoking-cap on his head, its golden lace and 

212 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

tassels frayed and tarnished. He wore a piratical 
shirt, already spoken of, which he says was * of 
an agreeable dark hue which the satirical called 
black, a light tweed coat made by a good English 
tailor, and a pair of ready-made linen trousers 
and leathern gaiters/ 

This was about 1876, and spies and the war 
were fresh in the official mind. The poor con- 
tents of the prisoner's pockets, his excitable 
manner, his fluency in French, more than ever 
assured the gendarme that he was right to arrest 
the strange wayfarer. His companion's more 
steady pace not suiting Louis's longer strides, 
they each walked alone. Cigarette came along 
with a sturdy step, bearing the certificate of 
his nationaHty in his face and address. The 
officials recognized him at a glance as a British 
subject. The Commissionary, who had ordered 
the arrest of the suspected spy's companion, 
was flabbergasted at the new prisoner's appear- 
ance : his purse well filled, his passport cor- 
rect, and dapperly dressed from head to heel, 
en suite, in grey clothes of an unmistakable 
Anglo-Saxon cut. They had to forgo further 
travels and return to Paris forthwith, for the 
officials decided it was well to rid themselves of 
the mystery and sent them to headquarters. 

213 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

Even this, and several other adventures of the 
same species, failed to persuade Louis that his 
taste in clothes was striking. Many think he 
was careless in regard to dress. That was not 
so. He gave much thought and time towards 
the getting together of his ill-assorted wardrobe. 
His friend at Hyeres, already quoted, says, * If 
he was careless in dressing himself, he was keenly 
appreciative of excellence in others.' Samoa, for 
the liberty and range in fantastic dressing its 
customs allowed him, must for that reason 
alone have suited him. To have, in lieu of 
swallow-tail coats, wreaths of flowers to wear on 
ceremonious occasions, was to him, indeed, an 
* engaging barbarism.* He stuck to the last to 
his ideas of ease and taste in dress, for he died 
in his sailor's jumper. 

The two occasions on which he wore new, 
well-made suits dwelt in the memory of his 
contemporaries. He had promised to officiate as 
groomsman at a friend's marriage. He allowed 
himself to be led to the tailor's and have his 
clothes ordered for him. Their rigidity terrified 
him. He begged for a velvet collar and cuffs to 
a frock coat, a gayer waistcoat ; but his tailor, 
backed by his two boon companions who had 
escorted him to prevent escape, remonstrated : 

214 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

* On this occasion, Mr. Stevenson, you must allow 
me to use my judgment ; you can order what 
vagaries you choose when you have only yourself 
to please.* This rebuke from the man of scissors 
quelled him. He dressed for this feast at our 
house, as his people were at Swanston, and the 
bridegroom feared, unless under surv^eillance to 
the last, he might appear in his usual docked 
velveteen jacket. But he was childishly inter- 
ested in these novel clothes. He felt so strange 
in orthodox attire that we had difficulty in 
persuading him we were not chaffing when w^e 
did not laugh, when he, holding himself erect, 
strutted in. Just as we thought he was safely 
started for his post of duty, he rushed back and 
stood on a chair to see himself once more in a 
sideboard mirror, and, with a smile of incredulity, 
he saUied forth, apprehensive of hearing jeers 
from an astonished populace. He came in one 
Sunday evening, saying he had gone to church 
with his parents in these wedding garments. He 
was honestly chagrined that they had com- 
mended his appearance, and he kept marvelhng 
that what to him was a singular garb had drawn 
no wondering notice down on his tall-hatted head. 
The other suit of feasible clothes he was cajoled 
into ordering cost him a mauvais quart dlieure. 

215 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

They were singularly light-coloured tweeds, and 
he wore them one day that he joined us in 
London. He made frequent calls on us to ad- 
mire him, and we flattered and praised their 
make, for in them and that wedding garment 
(which he was never seen to wear again since 
his churchgoing in them was not considered a 
joke) he looked sHght and graceful. The padding 
hid his high shoulders, and good cutting hid his 
spareness. Walking up the pathway by Holland 
House, some smuts fell, and Stevenson scudded 
like a ghost in his light robes along the alley 
till, breathless, he stopped, and gaspingly asked, 
' Have any blacks fallen on my angel clothes ? ' 
The question suggested a means to chastise him 
for overweening pride. We pretended to remove 
the offending body from the angelic coat — abused 
the clumsiness of an assisting brother for smudg- 
ing the biggest smut on the victim's shoulder. 
Louis walked on, sadly ill at ease. We were 
possessed by demons of mischief : we rubbed in 
that imaginary smudge by condoling and suggest- 
ing remedies, while Louis tried to see the extent 
of the blemish in plate-glass windows. We were 
cruel. His pained, nearly weeping, expression 
only urged us on to further flights of fancy, till 
he tore off his angel coat in High Street, Ken- 



2X6 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

sington. Seeing it still whitely immaculate, the 
weight of anxiety passed off his face. Then he 
cast a reproachful glance at us, and, with a 
forgiving smile, said, * Eh — ^>^ou two brutes — to 
misquote a well-known author.' After deliber- 
ating whether the spring sunshine were warm 
enough to allow him to continue the walk in his 
shirt-sleeves, he very leisurely resumed his coat, 
and the crowd which was gathering dispersed. 
That ' angel ' jacket (so called from its extreme 
lightness in colour) was the one he was arrested 
in the same autumn at Ch^tillon-sur-Loire, but 
by that season it had lost its delicate freshness 
and was grimy with travel-stains ; so, worn 
along with the shirt of an ' agreeable dark hue,* 
turned rusty io the tub, the coat could no longer 
be classed as a heavenly garment. 

Louis kicked somewhat too vehemently against 
the pricks when he was in the heart of the 
twenties. He had a hankering for the sunshine 
and the South, and to be free of the inanities of 
custom ; but, after all, he acknowledges the * old 
land is still the true love,' and roving fancies 
are but * pleasant infidelities.' The impetuous, 
wayward youth had really his lines allotted to 
him in very comfortable places. His home was 
certainly in a climate he disliked, but he had 

ai7 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

to own his native town was fair to look upon. 
He could, within ten minutes' walk of the west 
end of Princes Street, hear the peewits crying 
along the furrows, in fields bordering the Queens- 
ferry Road, and even ' in the thickest of our 
streets, the country hill-tops find out a young 
man's eyes, and set his heart beating for travel 
and pure air.' He had means to idle, and leisure 
in spring and autumn vacations to travel where 
he willed. During April, August, and September 
neither law court sits, and college gates are 
closed, so he was free to roam. So, though many 
think he was uncongenially situated in his home, 
the uncongenialness was more the perverse fret- 
ting of youth against the necessary harness of 
discipline than the actual reality. 

He encouraged himself to eschew such amuse- 
ments as came in his legitimate way. Balls he 
refused to attend, because he had to abandon his 
usual clothes and go in regulation dress suit, 
which, he boasted, stank in his nostrils. Not 
even fancy balls, which would have given him 
full scope for fantastic dressing, tempted him. 
He took the greatest interest in his companions* 
costumes, for he was quick to notice appropriate 
clothing on others. Before one fancy ball, an 
Edinburgh daily paper supplied ticket-givers 

2l8 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

with schedules for their guests to fill in with 
descriptions of their characters. Louis spent a 
happy afternoon with us * supposing ' many 
staid, religious citizens were going as ver>' re- 
markable characters. With dress to suit their 
parts the tempting schedules were supplied. 
One man of aldermanic proportions we dressed 
as * Chieftain of the Puddin' Race ' in haggis 
tartan. It was a wet afternoon, and we all 
assisted to robe many unsuspected ball-goers. 
No one enjoyed acting as Master of the Robes 
more heartily than Robert Louis Stevenson. The 
President of our Republic, feeHng a sudden 
weight of responsibility, sadly owned later that 
he had thought it wiser to call on the Editor 
and remove these carefully concocted descrip- 
tions, for the uninvited guests might not see the 
jest in a proper light. They were all in type 
when they were brought back and ruefully com- 
mitted to the flames. 

Acrostics that winter, appearing in the World, 
engrossed our time. There was an E — U to be 
guessed. One who had been busy at the fancy 
ball schedules promptly said, * I know. Elihu 
the son of Tisphat.' Louis was charmed at this 
ready invention, and walked up and down con- 
gratulating the coiner of names. * After my 

3x9 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

Maker, Elihu the son of Tisphat has always com- 
manded my reverence,' he declared. The in- 
ventor of Elihu was one of three sisters all noted 
for talking. We often w^ondered ' If Louis and 

the G 's met, who would speak most ? ' 

They did meet, and the three ladies, as usual, 
all spoke volubly and at once, and the room 
was a babble of laughter and voices. Louis's 
was dumb, for he could not be heard. When 
they left the dining-room, up he sprang, radiant 
with a new ' supposing.' * Suppose I was a 
Turk,' he said, 'and married to all three Miss 

G 's at once, would I turn deaf or dumb ? ' 

His attendance at conventional entertainments 
was as rare as his suit of properly cut clothes, 
occasions to be remembered. For the ordinary 
dinner-party he had no stomach — Babylonish 
feasts he called them. Sometimes when he came 
into his ' little committee * other members of it 
might have returned from what he characterized 
as Noah's Ark dinner-parties. He always in- 
quired what other beasts they had gone in to 
feed with, two and two, and what talking enter- 
tainment the animal they had been paired with 
had treated them to. The flowers and dresses 
sported on such occasions also interested him. 

' The table was all blobs of purple and yellow 
220 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

things,' said one, lighting his pipe and glad to 
be in his smoking-jacket again. * You mean 
violets and primroses ? ' suggested another. 
* Spring,' said Louis, jumping up. He spoke 
for long of the joys of the opening year, for the 
mention of the woodland firstlings was as a 
breath of the country to him. If our friend did 
not hke stiff banquets, he did not debar himself 
from unconventional ones. On my birthday in 
December, having with some friends been bitten 
with a mania for the culinar\^ art, we decided 
to cook the natal feast ourselves to show our 
lately acquired prowess. Robert Louis Steven- 
son promptly accepted his invitation to this 
dinner, and helped at making a code of rules. 
We decided, if we cooked, the men must wait. 
Whether those who were to be butlers were to 
appear in evening clothes or not was long dis- 
cussed, and finally decided in the affirmative. 
We cooks were to dine in our aprons. (W'e took 
the precaution to have a fresh supply for dining- 
room use.) The cook and housemaid had a 
holiday, and some ten of us took possession of a 
clean kitchen. Our old servant Jarvis retired 
to the seclusion of his pantry. He had been 
lenient, but somewhat contemptuous of this 
' ploy,' and as curious as ourselves as to the 

22X 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

result of our endeavours. He would only vouch- 
safe a well-known adage in regard to the number 
of cooks and the broth. Unless some untoward 
accident befell it, my mind was at rest about the 
said broth, for its nature had necessitated the 
previous preparation of its stock. My comrades 
were coached as to its ingredients ; so, if any 
guest cast doubts on it being of our own making, 
we would glibly dumbfound them with our 
knowledge of what was ' intil't.' We decorated 
the dinner table so as to prevent, in case of 
accidents, absolute starvation. We had loaves 
on the sideboard, and a couple of round Dutch 
cheeses on the table among the dessert. The 
cheeses, with their ruddiness, lent themselves 
to decoration, and a 'prentice hand at sculpture 
fashioned them into a semblance of a bucolic 
face. We covered their bald scalps with brist- 
ling celery, and softened the prominent hardness 
of their brows by fringes of cress. The cook 
returned in time to dish our dinner, and Jarvis 
meanly ushered her in, to see her start of horror 
when she beheld a rockery of pans piled below 
the table, and a slide of grease over her white 
floor. He grimly enjoyed her surprise * I did 
not, for I knew I had to face her next morning, 
without the protection of guests. When she came 

222 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

in we were all busily engaged in picking up the 
potatoes ; the pot they were in, being too heavy 
for novices' arms, had upset, and half its contents 
were flying over the slippery floor, half were 
seeking death by drowning in a much-choked 
sink. We captured the runaways and applied 
resuscitating measures to the drowned. The 
dinner was a success ; the food varied, but the 
spirits and the good-will of the guests kept high 
and steady. No one entered more fully into 
the fun of the feast than Louis Stevenson. As 
it was a species of fancy dress affair, he came 
in ' waiter's ' clothes, but softened their stiffness 
by a newspaper cap and a white apron. He 
received the dishes at the door, and introduced 
the viands with a preface, at which he was as 
ready with his tongue as with his pen. We 
cooks promptly complained of the waiting, 
which was wrong-sided and spasmodic. Louis 
conveyed an entree in a grand march round the 
room with much high-stepping ; but he was so 
engaged in talking that he was as awkward as 
his clumsy brother waiters at serving it. 

Sometimes, when he took pot luck with us, 
and seasoned our dinner with good company, he 
would be so busy holding forth on some new 
theory that a dish would wait at his elbow for 

223 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

a length of time Jarvis thought inadvisable. 
The old man would give it what he called a 
shuggle to attract attention, and that failing, 
break out with ' Hoot, sir, gang on wi' your dinner 
or let ithers gang.' Louis tried this ' shuggle.' 
Jarv'is had always the cloth in his mind, but the 
new waiter had not. A point of the feast was 
reached when a new supply of forks was needed. 
To Jar\as, to * scart his siller ' was a crime of 
deepest dye. Our faithful tyrant's forbearance 
broke down when he caught sight of ' yon laddie 
Stevenson ' dealing forks (mixed with knives) 
like cards : ' Lll wait on the twenty o' ye, but 
gi'e me my siller ; I canna hae it dadded,' he 
cried. Stevenson, who flattered himself he was 
assuming the rdle of waiter to perfection, whisk- 
ing about with a napkin under his arm, was 
loth to retire. He begged to be allowed to 
serv^e an apprenticeship as footman under 
Jarvis; but he would have 'no such daft-like' 
assistant. He commanded Louis, who was one 
of his favourites, to resume his seat and behave 

* weise-like.' Then he meanly said that if Mr. 
Stevenson had not been mixing the knives and 
silver together, he would have noticed that none 
of the ladies had taken potatoes, and added : 

* I ken why.' Louis abandoned his warfare — 
224 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

his hopes of a butlership, and fell into his seat. 
He said he wished to know the worst at once, 
and begged Jarvis, as a staunch friend and the 
only grey-headed one among us, to tell him the 
truth, and the story of the * couping * of the 
potatoes was revealed. Louis sat sad and silent 
for a brief space, and vowed he would turn 
cannibal and eat a human-headed cheese, but 
recovered when the happy thought occurred to 
him to make the cooks taste first, and he sup- 
posed himself to be an Emperor who only by 
caution could avoid a poisoned dish. The 
crackers, which were among a somewhat unusual 
dessert, were as great a joy to Louis as they 
would have been if he had gone back a decade 
or two in his life. The varied caps in which the 
company dressed themselves pleasured him as 
much as if he were again a flushed and fluttered 
child in blouse and socks. Crowns were too 
large, mitres nearer his size, but he hankered 
after the jester's cap. A pair of match-holders, 
with frogs climbing up their sides, have lived 
twenty years and more on my mantelpiece. 
Louis brought them up to the drawing-room 
that evening, bearing one aloft in each hand, 
to lay them literally at my feet with an Eastern 
obeisance. We finished our party off with a 
p 225 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON 

dance. Louis seldom danced in an Edinburgh 
drawing-room after he got into swallow-tails, 
but the motley assemblage of cooks and waiters 
in many-coloured head-gear suited his particular 
taste, and he footed it merrily at that irregular 
gathering, which left behind it laughter-moving 
memories for many long years. 



226 



LIFE AT TWENTY-FIVE 



a?7 



'To know what you prefer, instead of humbly saying Amen 
to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to have kept 
your soul alive.' 

— The Inland Voyage. 



228 



CHAPTER X 

LIFE AT TWENTY-FIVE 

Though we chaffed him sorely on his * eccen- 
tricities of genius,' we never found fault with 
his enthusiasm, an enthusiasm so infectious and 
refreshing. He was always brimful of new 
impressions, a rabid Radical keen on sweeping 
changes, or anxious to untie another knot he had 
found in his labyrinth of religious confusions. 
He changed in a trice from grave to gay with a 
dexterous swiftness which was free of restless- 
ness or flightiness. He never let himself or his 
Hsteners be bored or tired by concentrating atten- 
tion too long on one subject. As a talker by 
the winter fireside in these days, we gave him 
the crown for being the king of speakers. Before 
he had learned the art of writing he had acquired 
the power of speech, and a way of expressing him- 
self which charmed his hearers. He believed that 
his tongue had been given him to say pleasant 
things to his fellow-beings. His * spice of wit ' 

was Irish in its promptness and pleasantness. 

229 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

He had none of the exaggeration of American 
humour, and he winced under the slow felHng, 
humiliating style that Scotch humour excels in. 
' I love fighting,' he said, * but bitterly disHke 
people to be angr>^ with me — the uncomfortable 
effect of fighting. I am made up of contradic- 
tory elements, and have a clearing-house inside 
of me where I dishonour cheques of bitterness.* 
When he fought with that weapon, his tongue, he 
fought a fair fight from pure love of battle, never 
harbouring ill-will, though feeling wounds more 
acutely than most from his super-sensitiveness. 
His politeness to people he was not in accord 
with brought him up before the Bar of the 
' Little Committee ' on the charge of being a 
humbug. He never acquired the brusque, honest 
rudeness of the true-born Scot, either in manner 
or appearance. Dull people were the only human 
beings he belaboured with scorn. Considering 
that then he was in the full bloom of the critical 
self-satisfaction of youth, this showed his just 
mind and kindliness of heart. Bad-tempered or 
vicious people he could respect ; but folk with 
torpid minds he fell foul of, and after loadmg 
them with comical sarcasms, reproach, and com- 
miseration, he would next begin to wonder how 
it would feel to be inside their dense minds. 
230 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

He was, with that inquisitiveness of his, always 
longing to wear other people's shoes, to see 
where they pinched — king's shoes or beggar's 

* bauchles ' he would have tried — and his imagin- 
ings of comforts to be derived from, or pains 
suffered in, the wearing of them, he would give 
us as he stood on the hearth smoking endless 
cigarettes. 

He was tireless in his search for new sensa- 
tions and new experiences. No one ever had 
such an insatiable curiosity. He did not take 
Thoreau's advice : * Do not seek so anxiously to 
be developed, to subject yourself to many in- 
fluences, to be played on ; it is all dissipation.' 
He revelled in being so played upon — a new tune 
every day he would have liked. Rathillet's cloak 
about his mouth excited his boyish interest in 
that first visit of his to Fife, where he found that 

* history broods over that part of the kingdom 
like the easterly haar.' The Princes Street Gar- 
dens attracted him, not only for seclusion, but 
because there he always hoped to find on the 
green slope a subterranean passage which in 
olden days had led from the houses on the 
Castle Hill to the Nor' Loch. 

In his very early days Louis told us he had 

longed for a brother, so that he might call him 

231 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

Raca, and see what would happen. We assured 
him if he had come over to our nursery he would 
have experienced prompt punishment from the 
powers on high ; for, on the use of any unparlia- 
mentary language, our nurse, a disciplinarian, 
would have applied a spoonful of mustard to the 
erring tongue. Louis asserted that though this 
treatment had given us a horror of * Colman,' 
it did not seem to have eradicated opprobrious 
epithets from our vocabular>\ In fact, he con- 
sulted Jarv^is as to our upbringing, for he was 
puzzled to find that we younger members of a 
long family had eluded the Shorter Catechism, 
and only knew a few psalms and paraphrases in 
metre. He persisted that he once heard us 
wrangling as to whether there were eleven or 
twelve commandments. We pretended to be 
offended by this statement, and he was profuse 
in his apologies, but he refused to be convinced, 
and baptized us the Scottish Heathen. 

He told us he had been taught from his infancy, 
along with the Shorter Catechism, that the devil, 
for obvious reasons, always favoured the first 
ventures of a gambler. He, with a firm belief 
in this, and anxious to cheat Satan, when ordered 
South, put five pounds on the gaming-table, hug- 
ging himself with the knowledge that this was 
232 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

to be his last as well as his first venture. He 
was full of visions how he would spend the gold 
thus won from the devil, so he put his money 
down with smiling confidence — and lost. He was 
utterly flabbergasted. He felt, he said, as if a 
prop of his belief had been shattered, but he 
added that Satan made a mistake if he thought 
he would ever get him to try his luck again. 

When his ventures and theories failed, naturally 
he was crestfallen, but with his determination to 
be cheerful, and his elastic nature, he brightened 
up, and sought for some other ground to explore. 
His conversation wandered through many curious 
by-paths, and was overflowing with strangely 
odd conjectures. At one time he was bent on 
founding a pawning society. Every one was to 
pawn under the title of Arthur Libble the world 
over. Some future investigator of musty records 
was to be astounded that Arthur Libble had been 
constantly raising money on all manner of things 
in every quarter of the globe. Lives of Arthur 
Libble were to be written in coming centuries, 
and many conjectures made as to the manner of 
man he was. Louis reHshed, as he said, * to 
play with possibility, and knock a peg for fancy 
to hang on,* and he saw and planned many pos- 
sibilities as to Arthur Libble. We said we did 

233 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

not want to pawn anything ; and Louis, who had 
come in elated, was very depressed because we 
would not join in this new-fangled fad of his. 

Another evening he fell to conjecturing, if he 
were suddenly transplanted back to the four- 
teenth or fifteenth centur}', what vocation in 
life would have suited him. His companions 
said they would have gone, heavily sheathed in 
armour, as knights or their followers, career- 
ing about on cart horses. Though Louis, too, 
would fain have been one of them, he knew his 
want of physical strength would have debarred 
him from that rough-and-ready life. He thought 
a jester would have suited his capabilities — 
Wamba, Touchstone, Yorick, and many friends 
in motley sprang up to bear him company. 
His face shone, and he perambulated up and 
down the librar>^ picturing himself ' a fool i' the 
forest.' A man-at-arms shattered his dreams, 
and brought him to a standstill on the rug. He 
held Louis had not brains enough for a jester, 
but our gay R. L. S. defended his aptitude for 
the post gallantly. Finally, however, he had 
to abandon this bright-robed career. The man- 
at-arms showed our slim friend that although he 
could certainly talk so as to amuse two or three 
gathered round a nineteenth-century library fire, 
234 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

he had no voice to sing to the ladies in the bower, 
no diplomatic tact wherewith to humour his 
lord, and would have given w^ay to the temptation 
to harangue guests gathered round the baronial 
board on some private hobby of his own. He 
most unwillingly reUnquished cap and bells, 
and tried, without success, many employments. 
* I believe I would have to have been a turnspit,' 
he cried in despair, but another vowed he was 
unfit even for that, for he would have scattered 
gra\y as he scattered cigar ash, as he could no 
more keep his hands from their dumb pantomime 
than his tongue from its flow of words. Finally, 
and humbly, he took refuge in the Church, but 
as he could not even angle for Friday's dinner, 
he fixed that his Middle Ages vocation would 
have been clerk to the buttery and cellar. 

After long marvelling at my brother's fondness 
for birds, and the pleasure he obtained from his 
small aviary which adjoined the librar>% Louis 
thought he, too, would like to taste of the joys of 
bird-keeping. He dashed in one forenoon to say 
he had started a cageful of avadavats. For a 
few days he came regularly to sing their praises. 
Then he arrived with them, and begged that they 
might be taken from him, for they had got on 
his nerves. His bulletins of satisfaction at their 

235 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

presence were all sanguine make-believes. The 
scraping of their bills, their perpetual feeble chirp, 
irritated him, and the sight of the line of them 
crushed up together for warmth, made him, too, 
feel chilly. 

Louis wanted to see if he could satisfy the 
appetite for sugar of a greedy pug we had. The 
dog had still a capacity for more lumps when the 
bag of sugar was empty, so Louis said he thought 
he could not afford to investigate that matter 
further. Some views on dessert plates instigated 
him to read Dumas to find out what they por- 
trayed. He was one of those curious passengers 
Thoreau speaks of, who looked over the tafferel of 
his craft during the voyage over the sea of life, 
and did not journey like a stupid sailor picking 
oakum. He saw many wonders that other 
passengers were blind to. In great, as well as 
in trivial things, Louis Stevenson was full of 
absorbing curiosity. He could understand 
Shelley when, with Jane WilHams, in a cockleshell 
of a boat, he suggested, ' Now, let us together 
solve the great myster}^* 

Louis did not hesitate to get into all sorts and 
conditions of mischief to * see what it was like.* 
No experience, good or bad, did he hear of, but 
he must try to see it from his point of view. 

236 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

Sidney Colvin, writing of Robert Louis Stevenson, 
says : ' A restless and inquiring conscience kept 
him inwardly calling in question the grounds of 
conduct and the accepted codes of societ>% and 
he himself says he was of a conversable temper 
and insatiably curious in the aspects of life, and 
spent much of his time scraping acquaintance 
with all classes of men and womenkind.' 

His father, in his college days, gave him two 
shillings and sixpence a week for pocket-money. 
* A man can't help being sober and moral on 
that,' he said ruefully to a friend, holding out 
the dole. This friend, meeting him years after 
by Australasian seas, reminded him of the scene, 
and Louis laughed merrily. He said he had for- 
gotten it, but the mention of the very street- 
corner where they had talked, when he thirsted 
for foresights of hfe, brought it all back to him. 
Mr. Stevenson was far from being miserly, so no 
doubt he had excellent reason for his limited 
allowance to his son. Louis had his comfortable 
home. Unlike most fathers, Mr. Stevenson 
urged his son in vain to run up a tailor's bill 
for suitable clothes. Louis also could get on 
credit anything within reason at the shops his 
parents patronized ; but he had proved he 
could be reckless of money out of curiosity, ' just 

237 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

to feel what it was like to be a spendthrift/ as 
readily as he would waste his emotions without 
sense of proportion. Two friends of his, to curb 
their extravagance in dress and superfluous 
knick-knacks, never bought anything without 
notifying the fact to one another. Louis enjoyed 
the letters which passed between them, demand- 
ing liberty to make a purchase. He said he could 
not join them, as he had no money to spend, and 
the only shops that tempted him were the book- 
sellers' and jewellers'. He liked precious stones 
for their sparkle and colour, and wished he could 
be a Rajah or Indian potentate, and go daily 
lecked with strings of gems. If he had wished 
to join the Club to which his intimates be- 
longed, Mr. Stevenson would have paid his 
entrance fee, and provided him with funds to 
enjoy himself there ; but a Princes Street Club 
Louis despised. He preferred rather vagabondish 
haunts of his own in Edinburgh, but the Savile 
Club in London, of which he was a member, 
he found congenial. His Edinburgh hero, John 
Nicholson, goes to Colette's, which had nothing 
much to recommend it, for it had an * unsavoury 
interior,' where John found several members of 
the Junior Bar, not very sober, sitting round a 
table at a coarse meal served on a dirty table- 
238 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

cloth. But Colette, being a contraband hotel- 
keeper, had an attraction. When they had all 
been marched off to the police office for drinking 
at this arch shebeener's, they adjourned to one 
of the crestfallen company's rooms in Castle 
Street, * where (for that matter) they might 
have had quite as good a supper and far better 
drink than in the dangerous paradise from which 
they had been routed.' Louis took this sketch 
from his own experience. He used to enjoin all 
members of the Republic to affirm that he had 
been in their realm, if they were asked by his 
parents if Louis had been in talking late the 
previous evening, and many a time when his 
latch-key was used at unwarranted hours, he 
laid the blame on our smoking-room. 

When plans for a tour with his friends were dis- 
cussed by the winter's fire, and the projects and 
probable expenses told to Mr. Stevenson, he gave 
his hearty sanction and liberal funds, so his once 
upon a time paltry two shillings and sixpence a 
week must not be harshly judged, or Louis's 
father thought to have been unduly stingy. 

' It was a comfortable thought to me that I had 
a father,' Louis says in his tale of the College 
Magazine, when he saw, despite his ' lips smiling 
publicly,' that this literary essay was to be a 

239 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

grim fiasco. When failure came, he says, ' the 
necessary interview with my father passed off 
not amiss.' 

Mr. Stevenson loved his only son, and that love 
caused him much disquietude. Both love and 
duty made him anxious to guide and keep his 
boy on the right road. Louis had, however, a 
mania for by-paths which were not, unfortun- 
ately, in the * narrow way * in which his father 
wished him to walk. Once, when Louis's con- 
duct caused a serious breach, Mr. Stevenson, to 
recall him from what he deemed ' the broad 
road,' stopped the liberal funds he had given 
to his son. The good man was puzzled that his 
prodigal was not starved into returning. On 
the contrary, he continued to fare sumptuously, 
Hke the rich man, if not spending his substance 
in riotous living. An audacious friend of Louis's, 
who knew the whys and wherefores of the father's 
conduct, told Mr. Stevenson that he knew that 
if Louis, for want of funds, had to rough it, and 
fell ill, Mr. Stevenson would reproach himself, 
so he had advanced him some money, fully 
assured parental displeasure would melt, and the 
engineer repay him with interest. It says much 
for Mr. Stevenson's generosity and fairness of 
judgment that when he had looked on the 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

matter from his son's point of view, he repaid 
the money advanced, recalled the unrepentant 
prodigal, and killed the fatted calf. 

Anything the least out of the common in fact 
or fancy attracted Louis's attention, and he was 
always pursuing some chimera. Two queer 
quirks of his are noted and known. He once 
knew a girl born on a twenty-ninth of February, 
who constantly complained that she had only a 
birthday ever>^ four years, so Louis gave her as 
a present the 13th of November, as he said he 
had no further use for it. He drew up a deed 
in due legal form, and so endowed her with an 
annual feast-day. This Adelaide M. Ide, so 
strangely gifted with a birthday, died lately in 
Samoa. His step-daughter, also ' his friend and 
scribe,' tells how her mother and his cousin, 
Graham Balfour, were proposing in Samoa to 
exchange consciences. ' Louis was watching 
the transaction with interest, and suggested 
that the business might be developed, and that 
a trade journal might be started, where con- 
sciences could be advertised for sale or exchange. 
He himself, he added, might be very glad to 
avail himself of such facilities, and he wondered 
what his own conscience would look like in 
print. " Oh," said his cousin, '' let me try." 

9 241 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

" For sale, a conscience, half calf, slightly soiled, 
gilt-edged (or shall we say uncut ?), scarce and 
curious." ' 

This was the kind of drollery Louis loved of 
old. Endless were his freakish fancies. After 
the Inland Voyage had been successfully accom- 
plished, he was full of a project to buy a barge, 
and saunter through the canals of Europe, 
Venice being the far-off terminus. A few select 
shareholders in this scheme were chosen, mostly 
artists, for the barge plan was projected in the 
mellow autumnal days at a painters' camp in 
Fontainebleau Forest. The company were then 
all in the bloom of their youth. They were to 
paint fame-enduring pictures, as they leisurely 
sailed through life and Europe, and when bowed, 
grey -bearded, bald-headed men, they were to 
cease their journeyings at Venice. There, before 
St. Mark's, a crowd of clamorously eager picture- 
dealers and lovers of art were to be waiting to 
purchase the wonderful work of the wanderers. 
The scene in the piazza of St. Mark's, on the 
barge's arrival, the throng of buyers, the hoary- 
headed artists, tottering under the weight of 
canvases, was pictured by the historian of the 
voyage. The barge was bought, but bankruptcy 
stared the shareholders in the face. The patrons 

242 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

of art of that day had no leanings towards the 
work of the shareholders, and no first breath of 
success had come yet to the one author among 
them. The barge was arrested, and with it 
the canoes which had earned an immortal fame 
through the Arethusa's pen. They were re- 
deemed by Cigarette from a debtor's prison, 
the barge sold, and the company wound up. 

At this time he had much of his future work 
simmering in his brain. One evening he broke 
out into a species of Jekyl and Hyde plot. 
Deacon Brodie, the hypocritical villain, who 
appeared as a pillar of the Church, and an able 
craftsman before his fellow-townsmen, and was 
really a gambler and burglar, suggested to 
Tusitala the two-sidedness of human character, 
* commingled out of good and evil,' the smug 
front to the world, the villain behind the mask. 
The story of Burke and Hare's atrocious murders 
had a fascination for him too, and so had many 
other tales of old Edinburghers, or tales of 
Edinburgh itself ; for the city is a grey recorder 
of unforgotten history. ' The great North Road,' 
full of highwaymen, was to be the scene and 
name of a future novel. Louis's route north, if 
I remember aright, was to be by Berwick and 
York. The London Road, an outlet from 

243 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

Edinburgh, suggested the commencement of 
the journey. On a sloppy winter's day Louis 
stopped to admire the name, ' Val de Travers,' 
which was then printed in brass on asphalt pave- 
ments. It pleased him to see that, though the 
name was trodden under foot, it shone in letters 
of gold from out of the mud. He said he would 
use that undimmable name for a hero of his in 
some story, and imagined him in various situa- 
tions. He had a long memory for all sorts of 
things which had arrested his attention, but he 
must have forgotten Val de Travers, for he has 
never raised him from out of the pavement and 
set him on our shelves. 

* This is a poison bad world for the romancer, 
this Anglo-Saxon world. I usually get out of it 
by not having any woman in it at all ; but when 
I remember I had the Treasure of Franchard 
refused as unfit for a family magazine, I feel 
despair weigh upon my wrists,' he complained 
from Vailima. 

Very early in his career, some of his boon com- 
panions lamented that he was somewhat of a 
cowardly humbug, for he judiciously kept his 
Jekyl reputation so much before the innocent 
public that the Hyde in him, which they knew, 
was never suspected. They said they could not 
244 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

find a passage in any of his books with even a 
suggestion of Hyde in it. They persisted that 
he had so cultivated a pure Dr. Jekyl style, that 
he could not abandon it if he wished, and they, 
though not all penmen, could write a novel 
with a more than doubtful plot better than he, 
the rising author. Their scorn of his Jekyl 
mask, their boast that they could beat him with 
his own weapons, put him on his mettle. He 
avoided their company for some weeks, and 
laboured sedulously at a novel which would out- 
Herod Herod. He laid it before them, and they 
were startled with its strength, its terribleness, 
its outrageous blackness of human depravity. 
He was radiant : he had surprised them. The 
MS. book was kept by one ' life-long friend ' of 
his. He had it bound as the History of Peru. 
The efforts of Louis's companions, which were 
school-girl reading in comparison, figured on 
the same shelf as the History of Mexico. They 
looked so sallow and dull, no one, said their 
possessor, would take them from their place. 
Comparatively recently they still existed. Louis, 
though flattered at the time by their favourable 
criticisms, bitterly regretted he had entered the 
list on such a foul tournament, and asked for his 
work back to commit it to the flames, for fear 

245 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

that it should ever become pubUc. But the * life- 
long friend ' being of a speculative, tormenting 
turn, held to the manuscript. He said he could 
blackmail the author whenever he wished by 
threats of publication. Louis, to the end of his 
days, pled in vain for the reams he had sullied 
his pen over, and wisely resolved never again to 
play the part of Hyde with the tell-tale indelible- 
ness of ink. 

Louis had never any inclination for outdoor 
sports or pastimes. Riding along the hard roads 
round Edinburgh did not strike his fancy, though 
in Samoa, Mr. Bazett Haggard says, he was the 
second best rider on the island, and he enjoyed 
nothing better than a gallop on his horse. Skat- 
ing was the one outdoor amusement he enjoyed, 
though he never became very proficient at it. 
Like a crab he could move backwards, but a 
straightforward course on the ice took him a long 
time to accompUsh. He liked watching others 
at their intricate figure-cutting, or skimming 
along in swallow-like flights. 

The clear exhilarating air and the good spirits 
of every one contented him. Town ponds he did 
not care to frequent, but when Duddingston bore 
he abandoned work, and spent his days there. 
He watched the curlers, though his interest in 

246 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

the rink was not in the destination of the boom- 
ing stones, but in the jovial faces of the players, 
and the broad Scotch terms which seemed part 
and parcel of the roaring game. One winter of 
continued frost we went daily out of Edinburgh 
by train to skate on an unfrequented sheet of 
ice, and Louis joined us. It was at the village 
in which my father had been bom and reared. 
His remaining brother used to watch for us as 
the Edinburgh train arrived, and Louis, quick 
to notice and sympathize, observed how the old 
man's kindly face lit up with pleasure when he 
spied us. Louis complained he had no distinc- 
tive career, not even a surname of his own, at 
Bathgate ; for our Uncle Sandy never could 
remember his name, and called him ' the poor 
shilpit laddie,' and the village schoolboys, who 
came to slide, pointed him out as the ' foreigner ' 
or ' yon skinny ane.' WTien he took off his cloak, 
and began to warm himself by gliding on the 
black ice, he looked very sHght among the buirdly 
curlers. 

' Why,' said he one day, ' does that dear old 
gentleman, your uncle, think I 've the appetite of 
a prize-fighter, or is he a cannibal ? He piles my 
plate with corned beef and keeps it piled. All 

your other friends who go in with you to what he 

247 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

calls " tea," and which I call a cold banquet, he 
allows to eat, drink, and be merry in their own 
way, but he keeps watching and stuffing me. 
To-day he says he thinks I 'm fatter.* We ex- 
plained that our uncle, having befriended our 
father when he was an impecunious student in 
Edinburgh, had ever a generous solicitude for 
any he thought struggling to keep themselves 
at college, and he could not be convinced that 
* that poor shilpit-Hke laddie,' as he called his 
nephew's friend, was not an impecunious student 
of foreign extraction. It was in vain we told him 
Louis had a doting father and mother alive, and 
was a born and bred Edinburgher. 'They 
might give him a great-coat,' suggested our 
uncle. * Poor creature ! I don't like to see him 
with only that old curtain to wrap round him.' 

Louis was fond of walking, but golf did not 
strike him as an attractive addition to that exer- 
cise. It appeared to him very poor amusement 
to interrupt meditation or talk to hit a ball, and 
he was an unsympathetic listener only when his 
friends began discussing their strokes when their 
day's sport was done. Golf, too, in these Edin- 
burgh days of his, was more confined to Scot- 
land. It was then a Calvinistic sport, stem and 
hardy. Wind-shaven whins swallowed up balls, 

248 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

and there were no lawn-like inland courses with 
green velvet turf. If Louis had fancied it at all, 
he would have liked it when it was played on 
the sea links, with the tingle of the salt on one's 
lips, but out of doors his attention was all given 
to word painting. He had, when a boy, summer- 
ing at North Berwick, followed Robert Chambers, 
junior, round the links ; and years after, wishing 
to help a friend who wanted to contribute to 
Chambers' Journal, he wrote him the following 
letter :— 

* Dear Sir, — I do not know if you ever ob- 
ser\'ed me, but I have more than once followed 
your triumphant progress round a golfing green, 
and though this would hardly stand for an 
introduction, I dare say you know me by name. 
The paper enclosed is by a friend of mine, and 
it seemed to me very suitable to Chambers' 
Journal. Will you look at it and let me know ? 
This is a very incongruous letter altogether. 
The last incongruity is that I should put this 
infinitesimal rag of paper into such a mighty 
continent as the envelope. — Yours truly, 

' Robert Louis Stevenson.' 

When the daylight visibly increased, after the 
new year, Louis liked to wander about his native 

249 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

city. The Calton Hill, he held, was a compre- 
hensive place from which to contemplate it, for 
then you had Arthur's Seat with its * house of 
kings ' at its feet, and the long ridge of the old 
town bristling with spires — a romance in stone 
and lime from the Castle to Holy rood. The 
beauty of the scene in sunshine or haar pleased 
him, however much he complained of its scowling 
weather. On Sunday afternoons we went fur- 
ther afield. Duddingston village, lying at the 
back of the leonine green hill, away from the city's 
traffic, found special favour in his sight. One 
day, as he looked down on it from the road by 
Dunsappie, he expressed a sudden desire to have 
rooms there, in its peaceful out-of-world quiet, 
and waken to the song of birds. This poetic 
sentiment his father nipped in the bud, by tell- 
ing him he could hearken (season providing) to 
the first low matin chirp of early feathered 
singers in his own room at Heriot Row, for the 
gardens there were full of thrushes and black- 
birds. Rest and Be Thankful, on Corstorphine 
Hill, was our usual Sunday walk — that well- 
fended crook on its wooded slope, where David 
and Alan parted. 

The Hawes Inn, Queensferry, which figures in 

the Antiquary, also known as the place where 
250 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

Louis's hero David was ' Kidnapped,' was 
another of Robert Louis Stevenson's favoured 
resorts. The travellers crossing the Forth Bridge, 
taking a bird's-eye view of that hostelry, have 
disturbed the privacy of its hawthorn-hedged 
garden. Louis liked it for its retiredness and old- 
world air. He never saw it after the railway 
had disturbed it by bridging the Forth. The 
Dean Bridge, across which we invariably went 
on Sunday, was to Louis an unfailing source of 
pleasure. Looking over the west side (and he 
always would pause to look) lay the village the 
town had passed over, still a village of mills, 
with the roar of the weir, and the river lapping 
close up to the main-street doorways. On the 
east side there was the view of the terraced 
valley on which the fashionable places and 
crescents of houses had defiantly turned their 
backs, and, immediately below the bridge, a 
white mill and a dark mill lade. ' The dusty 
miller comes to his door, looks at the gurgling 
water, hearkens to the turning wheel, and the 
birds whisthng about the shed, and perhaps 
whistles an air of his own to enrich the symphony, 
for all the world as if Edinburgh w^ere still the 
old Edinburgh on the Castle Hill, and Dean were 

still the quietest of hamlets buried a mile or so 

251 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

in the green country',' writes Louis, speaking of 
his favourite * little rural village of Dean,' which 
has not been smothered in the annihilating arms 
of greedy Edinburgh, but by its lowly site still 
survives in the heart of its west end. The mill 
of Greenbank is gone. With the quiet of Hawes 
Inn, it has fallen before fin de sihle improve- 
ments. 

Louis was never exiled from his old haunts, 
however. He had a Peter Ibbetson knack of 
dreaming true. The fickle South did not obliter- 
ate from his memory the skinning nor'-easter 
we ofttimes met on that bridge, blowing direct 
from the ocean. Catriona lived somewhere near 
the village of Dean, and David Balfour found his 
way thither. When he sent David and Alan 
eastwards from Silvermills, one feels, as one goes 
with them to the sandy dunes of GuUane, the 
hale sting of the wind, sees the colouring crudely 
bright in the caller air, and breathes with them 
the invigorating atmosphere of that coast. Louis 
always dreamed true. Sometimes it was of his 
yachting days on the west coast, of the heat 
of a Highland day when it is hot, such a heat 
as his Highland fugitives experienced when they 
baked ' like scones on a girdle,' imprisoned on 
the rock in the glen by the watchful soldiers. 

252 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

* Very odd these identities of sensation and the 
world of connotations impHed,' he writes from 
VaiHma, when the rain from the westward be- 
spattering his verandah had sent over him * a 
wave of extraordinary and apparently baseless 
emotion ' and thoughts of Scotland. He com- 
plained that though he lived a voluntary exile 
he had his * head filled with the beastly place all 
the time.' That morning the smell of the peats 
came back to him, the sentiment of the Highland 
scenery, ' the rain on the wet moorland belike,' 
and he felt ' the romance of the past, and that 
indescribable bite of the whole thing at a man's 
heart.' His last two heroes lived in his grey 
town, or sought shelter near by among his well- 
loved hills. He recalled these familiar scenes in 
all their vividness, so that his hope was in a 
manner realized ; he beheld again in dying those 
' Hills of Home.' Truly he sang— 

• The tropics vanish, meseems that I 
From Halker side, from topmost Allermuir, 
Or steep Caerketton dreaming, gaze again.' 

With this tenacious imagination of his, this Peter 
Ibbetson hidden gift which he could exercise at 
will, he never was exiled ; however far in body 
he was from the land where his forefathers slept, 
he aye had a blink of his ' ain countrie.' ' It 

253 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

is a singular thing that I should live here in 
the South Seas,' he says in a letter to Mr. Barrie, 
a few weeks before his death, ' and yet my 
imagination so continually inhabit the cold, old 
huddle of grey hills from which we came.' 

The glimpses of country and fields seen from 
the heart of Exlinburgh were always noted and 
appreciated by Louis. The closes, which were 
like gaps in tall cliffs, were as frames to upright 
vistas of the sea and the Fife Lomonds. Or 
escaping down from the Parliament House after 
breathing ' dust and bombazine ' for a few hours, 
and finding it the most arduous form of idleness, 
Louis, rejoicing in the clear pungent air, would 
descend from the Mound, stirred with delight at 
the sight of the Highland mountains, hoary with 
their first powdering of snow. The sights which 
gave him a feeling of freedom from town fetters — 
the smell of the plough in his nostrils, the cry of 
the moorland birds in winter shelter, the ample 
leisure at his disposal to grind at his apprentice- 
ship of letters in the seventies — offered some 
measure of compensation for a climate which he 
found so uncongenial, though in the long run it 
would doubtless have been of more enduring 
benefit than the deceptive seductiveness of the 
luscious South. His ' first draught of considera- 

254 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

tion * for his literary ability was when he was 
asked to be one of the four editors of the Edin- 
burgh University Magazine, of which he tells us 
in one of his retrospective papers. There were 
some well-known names among the contributors 
which should have helped this venture to live 
longer. Professor Blackie, Principal Tulloch, Dr. 
Joseph Bell, that able wielder of pen or lancet, 
and some other standard names. Its failure 
sent Louis back, as he says, ' from the printed 
author to the manuscript student,' and but for 
Roads, Ordered South, and some other short 
pieces, we had to wait a few years till he com- 
piled his Inland Voyage. Treasure Island, written 
some six years after, was the first ship that 
brought home any weight of gold to his treasury. 
He took his journey in the Areihusa in 1876, and 
wrote of it in the following months. That winter, 
too, he was planning further vagrant travels — 
this time to the Cevennes. In 1875 his door 
plate, engraved ' R. L. Stevenson, Advocate,* 
was put up in Heriot Row. Neither his legal 
studies nor walking the boards of the Parliament 
House, waiting for hire, interfered with his 
literary work, and the long vacations gave him 
time for nomadic rambles. He had a deed box 
in the Parliament House, a gown and a wig. 

255 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

Occasionally he filled the two latter, but gradu- 
ally they, like the box, remained empty. At 
first, when all was new, the old-world air of the 
Law Courts, the quiet seclusion in the library 
below, the legal feet, the novelty of dressing up 
in the guise of an advocate, attracted him. Once 
he was told a clerk was looking for him to give 
him a brief. He tore off his advocate's robes 
and fled, and was only lured back, some while 
after, when his friends confessed the brief was a 
myth. 

Notwithstanding his bad health, he seemed 
able to take holidays in a ver}^ Crusoe fashion, 
winter or summer. He enjoyed walking tours, 
and went through Ayrshire in mid-winter. In 
these years, despite his complaints, he was really 
fairly unfettered. He had time for the liberty 
he craved for. Knapsack on back he would 
realize his song, and start off with the — 

'Jolly heaven above and the byway nigh.' 

The Courts rose in March for a month or more, 
and August and September were hoHday times. 
Louis had no cases to work up, no legal pot- 
boiling to do in the way of reports, no work as 
locum tenats to a Sheriff', such as the Junior Bar 

looked for hungrily. If he had not been forced to 
256 




t^Ng^g 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

leave the tale half told, his knowledge of Scots 
Law would have enabled him to try to con- 
demn Archie Weir in due legal form, and to see 
that Lord Hermiston conducted himself on the 
bench as beseemed a Lord of Session. He 
studied well as a law student, and had a know- 
ledge and grasp of dry technicalities which no 
one credited him with, for no one ever saw him 
show any interest in legal proceedings. He never 
pled, and did no more than look into the Parlia- 
ment House to see a friend or read a book, once 
his gown was no novelty. 

Lord Braxfield's portrait was not bequeathed 
in Louisas day to the hall of the Courts of Justice 
where now it rests, but Louis studied it when it 
was in the Raeburn Exhibition. His freshness 
of remembrance, his knack of making people see 
from his point of vision, stood him in good stead 
when he made Braxfield into Hermiston. The 
correct legal knowledge he somehow imbibed 
during his fitful appearances in wig and gown 
shows he must have given some attention to it, 
and that knowledge of his recognized profession 
is reflected in every line of Weir of Hermiston. 



257 



TRAVEL SONGS 



459 



'Give to me the life I love, 
Let the lave go by me ; 
Give me the jolly heaven above, 

And the byway nigh mc. 
Let the blow fall soon or late, 

Let what will be o'er me, 

Give the face of earth around 

And the road before me.' 

— Songs of Travel. 



260 



CHAPTER XI 

TRAVEL SONGS 

In one of his essays on a walking tour in Ayr- 
shire, Louis speaks of Maybole and the ballad 
of 'Johnne Faa,' the king of Scottish Gipsies 
and Earl of Little Eg>^pt, by a charter from 
James v. The Lady of Cassilis, in her high 
turret, heard the Eastern wanderers sing, and 
their music arousing old memories and the wild 
blood in her, she left her husband's castle to 
follow them. ' Even,' says Louis, ' if the tale 
be not true of this or that lady, or this or that 
old tower, it is true in the essence of all men and 
women ; for all of us, sometime or other, hear the 
gipsies singing, over all of us is the glamour cast. 
Some resist and sit resolutely by the fire. Most 
go, and are brought back again like Lady 
Cassilis. A few of the tribe of Waring go and 
are seen no more ; only now and again, at 
spring-time, when the gipsies' song is afloat in 
the amethyst evening, we can catch their voices 

in the glee.' Louis's hearing was alert. The 

261 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

Romany music sounded in his ears, and he cast 
ofif the strait jacket of convention, arose from the 
feather bed of civilization, and set off when the 
first breath of spring reached the North. His 
cousin, R. A. M. Stevenson, was an artist, and 
his comrade Cigarette had a brother who Hved 
part of the year at Fontainebleau studying the 
same profession. The two Edinburgh advocates, 
glad to be rid of their little-worn gowns and wigs, 
joined their kinsmen in the refreshing greenery 
of the forest at some painters' camp which Louis 
has so well described in his papers on Fontaine- 
bleau. * Our society,' he says, * was full of high 
spirits, of laughter, and of the initiative of youth. 
The few elder men who joined us were still young 
at heart, and took the key from their companions. 
It was a good place and a good life for any 
naturally-minded youth ; better yet for the 
student of painting, and perhaps, best of all, 
for the student of letters.' 

The attraction to the artists at Barbizon, when 
they pitched their camp at Siron's, was Millet. 
The great man had just died, Louis says, when 
first he went there. He was at Barbizon before 
Millet's death, but perhaps not as a resident for 
any length of time. Mr. Will Low, the American 
artist, speaking of his student days in Paris, says : 
262 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

* In the summer, 1874, the two Stevensons, as 
they were known, the cousins Robert Louis and 
Robert Alan Mowbray Stevenson (the author of 
the recent Life of Velasquez, and the well-known 
writer on art) were in Barbizon. Millet was 
not much more than a name to my friends that 
day when we talked over our coffee in the garden 
at Siron's Inn. They had seen little or none of 
his work. I ventured across the road, knocked 
at the little green door, and asked permission 
to bring my friends, which was accorded.' The 
Stevensons had been insisting that all the great 
artists were passed away. Mr. Low held that 
giants still walked the earth. He clinched his 
argument by taking them to Millet's. * In half 
an hour,' he says, * I was witness of an object- 
lesson, of which the teacher was serenely un- 
conscious. Of my complete triumph when we left 
there was no doubt, though one of my friends 
rather begged the question by insisting I had 
taken an unfair advantage, and that, as he ex- 
pressed it, " it was not in the game, in an ordinary 
discussion between gentlemen, concerning minor 
poets, to drag Shakespeare in, in that way." ' 

At Fontainebleau Louis roved at will, or 
loafed in the sunshine, read and wrote little and 

talked much of an evening, for he had able 

263 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

antagonists to grapple with in argument. Mr. 
Low says : * If Louis Stevenson was the most 
wonderful talker in the world, as he certainly 
was, then certainly " Bob " Stevenson was 
second to him.' But many who knew both these 
gipsy-looking Stevenson cousins in these days, 
gave Robert Alan Mowbray Stevenson the palm 
for being more original and spontaneous, and not 
so persistent in his search after startling themes, 
but lighting on them unawares. Mr. Low goes 
on to say that if Robert Louis had died then, 
or never accomplished anything in his Hfe, he 
would have regarded him as a great and wonder- 
ful personage with the same feeling as he has 
for him to-day. Mr. Low asserts to an editor 
of an American magazine that ' young Stevenson 
exercised over himself, and all the others of their 
circle, the strangest kind of magnetic power.' 
They all felt, as he did, that they were in the 
presence of an intellect far beyond them. There 
was something akin to worship in the feeling 
entertained by them for Stevenson, and yet 
Low admits that he and Louis were always 
quarreUing on all possible subjects ; ' they 
loved each other, yet they argued and fought 
continually.' Mr. Low had more discernment 

than most, for, among the men who now sit in 

264 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

Weir of Hermiston's place on the bench, or plead 
before the judges of to-day, and who knew 
Louis in these his Edinburgh days, I have heard 
many candidly own they neither particularly 
liked Ix)uis, nor ever dreamed that he would rise 
to any eminence. He hid his lights a good deal 
under a bushel ; frank as he appeared in his 
talk, there was a vein of hidden secretiveness, 
half bashful, about him, though he was not 
troubled with national shyness. In his legal 
days he seldom mentioned his patient toiling 
for master>^ over his chosen craft. He fostered 
the idea that he was a consummate idler, light- 
hearted and thoughtless, sadly wanting in sta- 
bility, with no object in life but to * gang his 
ain gait,' and his ways were out of the common 
ken. Some of his fellow-artists, too, at Barbizon 
do not recall any special admiration for Robert 
Louis Stevenson then ; for, like his shrewd 
Edinburgh confreres, men of culture and dis- 
cernment, they did not bestow much notice on 
him. His ability to weld his ideas into specific 
language made him a peerless speaker, and of 
an evening his thoughts, translated into decora- 
tive words, entertained them when they Hstened. 
They were all young, self-absorbed, and an 
Artist of Letters was not held of much account 

265 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

among those whose thoughts were given to the 
palette and brush. Louis's mannerisms and 
oddities in dress were quite commonplace in a 
colony of unconventional beings, and there also, 
as in Edinburgh, he was not a general favourite. 
Even the friends of his youth, who knew him 
well, liked him for his lovable, genial gaiety, 
and were attracted to him by his eager enthu- 
siasm more than by any forewarning that their 
comrade was Hkely to be distinguished. They 
looked on him with affection, such as they might 
concede to a child, half in pity for the irre- 
sponsible evanescence of its spirits, yet liking its 
merry carelessness. Sidney Colvin, speaking of 
Louis when they first met, says : * He was at 
that time a lad of twenty-two, with his powers 
not yet set, nor his way of life determined. But 
to know him was to recognize at once that here 
was a young genius of whom great things might 
be expected. A slender, boyish presence, with 
a graceful, somewhat fantastic bearing, and a 
singular power and attraction in the eyes and 
smile, were the signs that first impressed you ; 
and the impression was quickly confirmed and 
deepened by the charm of his talk, which was 
irresistibly sympathetic and inspiring, and not 
less full of matter than of mirth.' 
266 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

So it seems some instinctively foresaw, and 
some, who were by no means dull of perception, 
were blind to his future and were not captivated 
by him in the present. Let it be remembered 
that in Edinburgh Louis Stevenson, during his 
quarter of a century or more of residence there, 
was little known. He kept aloof from people 
and pleasures in his own circle, forming an 
enthusiastic admiration and worship for a few. 
' Yon daft laddie Stevenson,* a janitor at the 
Parliament House spoke of him as, and many 
who knew him by sight, in ' his own romantic 
town,' as Thomas Stevenson's son, thought it an 
apt description of the youth who ran counter to 
all accepted formulas and customs, and prided 
himself on being a bit of a Pariah in the stately 
city of his birth. 

Louis was always more liked by his seniors. 

Those of his own age, or younger, were not 

tolerant of fondness for talking. His charming 

fluency of speech prejudiced many against him, 

for in company in these days he strained to 

attract attention by his power of eloquence, and 

only a few knew how excellent and sympathetic 

a hstener he could be. He attitudinized in his 

twenties as a sparkling, flighty speaker, and 

those of his own years had no patience with his 

267 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

sudden raptures, his almost hysterical sensitive- 
ness over a sad story or a too realistic drama. 
In the artists' camps, however, they understood 
his changeable moods, his ecstasies, his ebulli- 
tions, and if a phonograph had been in Siron's, 
at Barbizon, or Chevillon's, at Gretz, when he, 
invigorated by the outdoor life in the spacious 
woodlands, talked till morning, that phonograph 
would have given us much of his strange sur- 
mises racily worded. In his Vailima Letters 
there is an unpeptonised strength of expression 
which recalls to those who knew him his every- 
day style of speech. 

If a phonograph could have recalled his voice, 
the familiar accent of his country and his mind, 
untoned into the smooth cadence of words he 
put before us in print, a cinematograph would 
have been the only means to recall his appearance. 
He was all life and movement, and his expression 
ever changed as he spoke. His bright but wan 
oval face lit up then, the wine of youth (for he 
never would have been old if he had lived his 
allotted threescore and ten) mounted to his 
thin cheeks, and the glory of soul radiated from 
his beaming black eyes. Then the mercurial 
movements of his hands were part of his speech ; 
they were emphasis, interrogation marks, italics 

263 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

to his phrases. It is singular that, living, as he 
did, for many a week together in spring and 
autumn among artists, none ever sketched him, 
though they were on the constant outlook for 
striking subjects for their brush. Notwith- 
standing Mr. Low's eulogy, and his belief that 
his fellows regarded Robert Louis Stevenson 
* with something akin to worship,' none of them 
sought to immortalize him on what each hoped 
were their immortal canvases. I have heard 
many who were of that jovial crew there, say 
that neither Louis Stevenson's unique face nor 
his art of talking impressed them much. They 
noted his feebleness of frame, and liked his 
courageous gaiety in the face of physical weak- 
ness. ' I wonder,' he asks, ' if ever any one had 
more energy upon so little strength ? ' One 
portrait was done of him at Fontainebleau, not 
on canvas, but on the white walls of Chevillon's 
salon at Gretz. It was a caricature, but at the 
same time an unmistakable likeness. Louis was 
portrayed shivering on the brink of the river, 
preparing to dive, but shrinking from the leap, 
his shoulders shrugged, and his hands drooping 
limply from the wrists in protesting supplication. 
The figure was outlined in black. It accentuated 

his deplorable leanness, added a few inches to 

269 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

the length of his hair, and made it stray in 
unkempt locks over his brow. 

Louis in these days was no sketcher. The 
Studio gave in the winter number 1896-97 some 
pictures of his, clever outlines, some done, it is 
said, in Davos. Whether he had cultivated an 
ability to wield his pencil later, as he learned 
the flageolet, or whether his hostages to fortune 
helped him, I know not. But at Barbizon the 
artists* community offered the two aliens in their 
camp, the Cigarette and the Arethusa, a prize 
for the best landscape. It had been discovered 
that Cigarette could draw the old-fashioned 
valentine — heart pierced by Cupid's dart — but 
the Arethusa's anatomy was undoubtedly faulty 
and the Blind Boy's arrow in his hands under- 
went serpentine contortions. Still Arethusa said 
he could draw, at any rate better than the 
Cigarette, and so the contest was arranged. 
The luxuriant tangle of the forest, the glades, 
or some woodland veteran standing out alone 
in leafy prominence, the competitors refused to 
attempt. Finally, a wall was fixed on as their 
motif. Most of the onlookers backed the 
Arethusa ; the ferv^our with which he entered 
into criticism of his friends' pictures, his very 
looks which made him appear as one of them- 

270 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

selves, inclined them to believe he would win. 
He settled down to his task, smiling and con- 
fident, while Cigarette, his pipe well between 
his teeth, sat silent, and steadily worked. His 
rival chattered as he glanced at the motif, and 
had hardly a hand left to draw with as he 
flourished his pencil Hke a conductor's wand, 
and used the other hand as a species of telescope 
to focus with, as he had seen others do. The 
result was that Louis lost. His wall was quite 
incomprehensible, while my brother had got his 
clearly built and the stones put in, in a heavy- 
handed, firm manner, properly shaded too. 
This primitive prize study was called from its 
stolidity the Scotch Dyke. Stevenson was dis- 
appointed, but owned he was honestly beaten. 
The artists encouraged these two novices at 
their trade to continue their studies, but Robert 
Louis Stevenson's work remained ludicrously 
hopeless, and he never could be taught to outline 
his wounded heart and its damaging dart aright. 
Mrs. Fleeming Jenkin, in The Edinburgh Academy 
Chronicle of March 1895, speaking of a visit to 
Robert Louis Stevenson at Skerryvore in 1885 
and subsequent years, says : * He was then very 
ill, but his beautiful gaiety never failed him, and 

his own sufferings seemed but to make him the 

271 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

more tender to his friends. He invented many 
pastimes for himself and them. At one time 
he modelled little clay figures, beginning them 
in one intention, and then humorously changing 
it to suit their changing appearance. He could 
not draw a stroke' 

Louis, if his fingers refused to sketch, could 
always portray in words, and he had a special 
gift in fixing on appropriate names. Among 
them in the forest came one called Violet le Due. 
This man pricked up his ears when he heard the 
English colony speak his name at table. Louis 
saw this, so he called a meeting of his country- 
men and those who spoke the mother tongue, 
explained how Violet le Due hearkened sus- 
piciously to the sound of his name, but how 
without a breach of good manners they could 
continue to remark on his work if they would 
but adopt his suggestion. Violet le Due would 
have, when mentioned among the English-speak- 
ing community, to discard his ducal coronet, and 
be known in future as Primrose the Earl, by 
which equally spring-like title they discussed 
him freely, while he within earshot remained 
happily unconscious. 

Many of the artists were musical, but Louis 
Stevenson took no part in their impromptu 
272 




A 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

concerts. He liked their songs and rattling re- 
frains, but he was no singer, nor had he much 
of an ear for music. He would attempt to pick 
out a tune with one finger on the piano. He 
says he had a rudimentary acquaintance with 
* Auld Lang Syne ' and the ' Wearing of the 
Green.' He makes David and his forebear at 
Pilrig have a musical ear, for the Laird received 
David Balfour ' in the midst of learned works 
and musical instruments, for he was not only 
a deep philosopher, but much of a musician.* 
Flageolet-playing, a later accomplishment, or 
one hidden like his sketching, was one of his 
impulsive whims, — an experiment undertaken to 
see if he Hked making music, as he had once 
before experimented to see if he could like the 
cageful of unrestful avadavats. 

A fancy for gardening, that * purest of human 
pleasures,' came on him in his later years, and 
he found it, as Bacon said, * the greatest refresh- 
ment to the spirit of man.' In the well-planted 
garden at Swanston he took no practical interest 
in the growth of the flowers till, in course of the 
season, their fully developed beauty burst on him, 
and they sweetened the air with their perfume. 
But at Vailima the gardening fever came on him 
strongly. In a letter to Dr. Bakewell he said : 

§ 273 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON S 

* However, I am off work this month, and occupy 
myself in weeding cacao, papa chases, and the 
like. My long, silent contests in the forest have 
had a strange effect on me.' Much of his 
gardening struggles are recorded in Vailima 
Letters, He had the tropical rapidity of vegeta- 
tion to contend with, and a primeval growth of 
weeds to subdue. He liked difficulties, for in 
spite of his physical disabilities he had a stubborn 
doggedness about him. A long-cared-for garden 
never tempted him to adopt Robert Young's 
trade, but the untutored wealth of his own 
domain incited him to action, and, like the 
settlers, he set to work on the hard task to tame 
the wilderness. 

At Fontainebleau he entered sympathetically 
into tlie artists' struggles, and he envied them 
their complacent contentment, whether their 
day's work had been successful or not, comparing 
it with the reproaches he inflicted on himself if 
after labouring with his pen, his pages were not 
up to his ideal. His comrades, especially the 
foreigners, at Siron's or Chevillon's, were suavely 
polite, and Louis liked polish, French or other- 
wise. He found, however, that when a wind 
of adversity blew, his own ' brither Scots ' were, 

like the Douglases, ' tender and true.' He was 
274 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

a strange mixture of nervous, womanish fears, 
along with that braveness which enabled him 
to face ill-health smilingly and reap a harvest of 
happiness in the Land of Counterpane, a task 
which would have baffled most strong men. In 
his forest wanderings he had encountered midges, 
which distracted him sadly when he was enjoy- 
ing visions, searching new ways to enter that 
House Beautiful of his dreams. The forest also 
hid other enemies in ambush — the tics which 
brush off the ferns on to passers-by. He ac- 
quired one of these, and in an anxious horror 
rushed into the salon crying that a wart had 
appeared on his arm which, like the ' Fat Boy ' 
in Pickiinck, was * visibly swelling.* They told 
him laughingly it was a blood-sucking forest 
inhabitant^ at which the highly strung Louis 
became panic-stricken. Cummy often had seen 
these exaggerated terrors take possession of the 
small boy she had nursed, but even the profusely 
commiserating foreign artists present laughed 
as they saw their gay Stevenson in tears. They 
thought he was so affected for their amusement, 
but this frenzy was no Stevensonian trick to 
attract attention. The first to realize that 
Louis's uncontrolled fear was not mockery was 
his trusty friend the Cigarette. He tried to 

275 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

reassure the distraught Arethusa by teUing him 
that a Hke fate befell many, that Taureau, the 
bull-dog, survived, though daily he came in with 
a crop of vampirish tics on him, which made his 
master and Coco, the monkey, pay him such 
close attention. Finally, he extracted the foreign 
body from the weeping Arethusa, who was duly 
grateful. But it was a subject the blithe R. L. S. 
would not take a comic view of, for when the 
artists jested on it later he paled at the mention 
of the scene. 

Taureau, the bull-dog, recalls how Robert 
Louis's beggarly clothes exceeded the usual 
degree of artistic nondescriptness. The dog was 
ill, and heat and care were the prescription. 
Madame Chevillon was attentive to her four- 
legged boarder. She saw him shiver, and the 
kindly Frenchwoman looked for something to 
wrap him in. She took what came nearest her 
hand, which happened to be Louis's well-known 
velveteen jacket. It was a warm August day, 
and he enjoyed the freedom of sitting without 
his coat, and had flung his outer garment on to 
the bench. Wlien evening came he hunted for 
his old, derided friend in every conceivable 
place. Madame had not seen it. She was 
tearful and dispirited over the dog. Louis 

376 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

continued his search till the waning day brought 
the artists back from their work, and Taureau's 
master went straight to visit his sick dog. The 
velveteen was next the patient's skin, the ragged 
lining outside. He flung the unsightly wrap 
away from his favourite, and Louis spied his 
jacket on the floor. He was indignant at the 
use it had been put to, but Madame and Taur- 
eau's master held it was an insult that so valu- 
able a dog had been equipped in such rags. 

When he first knew Fontainebleau, Barbizon 
was the favoured artists' haunt, but its selectness 
and freedom having been spoilt by invaders, two 
men set out to look for other quarters, and came 
back reporting well of Gretz. There the river 
and the boats were specially novel attractions, — 
' something to do,' they said, ' when feeling 
averse to work.' ' The consistent idler,' as 
Louis called himself, to disguise the fact that he 
was the hardest worker among them, 'had no 
craving, like his brethren, after that something 
to do.' All he wanted was to walk, to dream, 
to see, and to store his mind with what he saw. 
Speaking of the bathers and canoes at Gretz, he 
says they told a tale ' of a society that has an 
eye to pleasure. Perhaps for that very reason I 
can recall no such enduring ardours, no such 

277 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

glories of exhilaration as among the solemn 
groves and uneventful hours of Barbizon. This 
" something to do " is a great enemy to joy ; 
it is a way out of it ; you wreak your high spirits 
on some cut-and-dry employment and behold 
them gone.' 

Gretz unawares became an important place to 
Louis. It was, so to speak, a cross-road on his 
way of life, and from there he took a route which 
led him away from the home and his friends ' in 
the venerable city ' which, he writes from Samoa, 
' I must always think of as my home.* Louis 
was seldom in Edinburgh in summer. Swan- 
ston was too attractive to him. In summer his 
friends* canoes were launched on ' the Forth's 
ample waters set with sacred isles,* and after a 
day's sailing on the Firth they came home 
browned with the sea air. Gretz started Steven- 
son off on new journeyings. It suggested A7t 
Inland Voyage, In Gretz, too, one autumn, 
he had an experience which he never alluded to 
in his constant autobiographic peeps which are 
scattered through his pages. To the village on 
the outskirts of the forest came a travelling player 
and his wife, half conjurers and half actors, who 
gave performances in Chevillon*s and the neigh- 
bourhood. Louis Stevenson took one of his 

278 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

enthusiastic fits over this man, who told him 
tales, and assured his listener he was an Austrian 
count in disguise, while his wife was a Bulgarian. 
Louis came into the salon full of this romantic 
tale, and was offended at it being suggested that 
the conjurer was so well disguised no one could 
possibly have guessed his identity. He became 
enamoured of these charlatans, and took as a 
personal insult the ready laugh of the salon when 
a joker named the count and his wife the 
* Bulgarian Atrocities/ Among the once-united 
coterie at Gretz there had by then been sown 
some dissension, so life did not run on such easy 
lines as formerly. Louis hotly upheld the 
authenticity of the Austrian count's pedigree. 
He attended all his performances, applauding 
loudly, walked, talked, and sat in Chevillon's 
kitchen hobnobbing with the ably disguised 
conjurer. There were people coming to Gretz 
whom Louis wished to avoid, so he suddenly 
announced his decision to accept an offer from 
the Bulgarian Atrocities, and go a-touring with 
them. The gipsy glamour of a roving life was 
still unsatisfied by his other autumn travels. 
Louis Stevenson, to use a Scotch phrase, * kept 
a quiet sough ' on his experiences as a merry- 
andrew. He was supposed by his people to be 

379 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

among his artist friends, but when he returned 
to Chevillon's he was, for him, marvellously 
reticent on his adventures. All he admitted 
was that he played before French yokel audiences 
a part which was not of a high-class order — 
the part of a stupid Englishman whose mistakes 
in a foreign tongue were such as to appeal to 
the galler>'. Only in the Mand Voyage did 
Louis give a hint of his knowledge of people like 
his disguised count. * I am pretty well ac- 
quainted with the ways of French strollers, more 
or less artistic,' he says ; and adds, * I have 
found them singularly pleasant' but, unlike 
his usual generosity in always sharing his 
pleasures with the public, on this occasion he 
kept them to himself. 

For a delicate person Robert Louis took liber- 
ties with his constitution which were suicidal. 
Crossing the x^tlantic and then the Plains as 
an emigrant brought him ver}^ near the grave, 
in fact he never recovered from the effects of 
these voyages ; but before these wretched experi- 
ences he had faced winter and rough weather on 
walking tours, and Modestine and he had not 
good camping-out weather in the Cevennes. 
This touring with mountebanks in France must 
have been rash for one so sickly as he, with no 

2S0 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

British grey-suited comrade in his wake with 

pockets adequately Hned, to take him out of the 

clutches of gendarmes and see that he had 

decent meals and accommodation. If the scheme 

of the barge had not failed for want of funds, it 

would have been an ideal life for the migratory 

author. W^liile thus yachting on land, as it 

were, there would always have been calm waters 

to traverse, no monotony as on the houseless 

ocean, many glimpses of happy home life as he 

glided past : such anonymous blessings as he 

describes as the Arethusa, * when ideas came 

and went like motes in a sunbeam, when trees 

and church spires along the banks surged up 

from time to time in my notice, like solid objects 

through a rolling cloud-land. Indeed, it lies so 

far from beaten paths of language that I despair 

of getting the reader into the smiHng, complaisant 

idiotcy of my condition.* 

The thirst to travel simply for the sake of 

moving, which Stevenson says assailed him, 

would have been assuaged. In a barge Louis 

could have had his home comforts, his books, 

his desk, about him, and thus journeyed with 

what Bailie Nicol Jarvie would have classed 

as * a' the comforts o' the Saut Market,' through 

the opulent lands bordering whatever watery 

281 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

road he chose. If he had felt inchned to tarry 
in any tempting spot, a site for his movable 
house was always obtainable by the canal bank. 
A mad Highland woman whom Louis met on 
one of his knapsack wanderings, about 1870, 
told him his fortune. ' All I could gather,' he 
says, * may be thus summed up shortly : that I 
was to visit America, that I was to be very happy, 
and that I was to be much upon the sea — pre- 
dictions which, in consideration of an uneasy 
stomach, I can scarcely think agreeable with one 
another.' * The pythoness was right,* he adds 
in 1887. * I have been happy. I did go to 
America (am going again, unless — ), and I 
have been twice, and once upon the deep.' A 
barge life would have saved the search for health 
so far off on the Pacific where, instead of giving 
way to the lotus-eating indolence of the ener\^at- 
ing climate, he worked harder than ever he did 
in the bracing North. Prophetically, at the end 
of An Inland Voyage, he says : * Now we were 
to return like the voyager in the play and see 
what rearrangements fortune had perfected the 
while in our surroundings, what surprises stood 
ready-made for us at home, and whither and how 
far the world had voyaged in our absence. You 

may paddle all day long ; but it is when you 
282 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

come back at nightfall, and look in at the 
familiar room, that you find Love or Death 
awaiting you beside the stove : and the most 
beautiful adventures are not those we go to 
seek.' 

From this journey, with those ' fleet and 
footless beasts of burthen,' the canoeists returned 
to Gretz, and there by the stove sat Love await- 
ing Robert Louis Stevenson. In The Wrecker 
there is an American, Loudon Dodd, whose 
father, seeing an opening for a man who could 
turn out statues to embellish Muskegon State 
public hall, orders his son to learn sculpture. 
* I took up the statuary contract on our new 
capitol ; I took it up first as a deal ; and then 
it occurred to me it would be better to keep it 
in the family. There is considerable money in 
the thing, and it 's patriotic,' he explained to 
Loudon, and to Paris Loudon went. The real 
Loudon, one Mr. * Pardesous,' was in tnith 
despatched to * learn to sculp ' for a hall in some 
State which awaited his works of art. One small 
statue of Freedom holding a banner was all he 
accomplished after his studies. He knew the 
artists and their haunt at Gretz, and in 1876 
brought down there some ladies of his own 

nation, who were also in Paris studying art. 

283 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

Pardesous was recommended by habitu6s to 
take his compatriots to another hotel at Gretz. 
But to Chevillon's there came Mrs. Osbourne, 
her daughter Belle, and her son Sam, a lanky 
little boy, for ever growing out of his clothes. 
Sam was commonly known at Gretz as * Petit 
feesh,' from the way he persistently spent his 
time angling for the inhabitants of the river ; 
and when asked by the Gretz boys what he was 
catching, replied, ' Petit feesh.' These ' petit 
feesh ' {Anglice, minnows) he spent much time 
over, cooking them by the stove, and constantly 
demanding a hairpin from his sister Belle as a 
spit. Mrs. Osbourne's cloudy hair was upheld 
by a piece of scarlet window-cord which con- 
trasted well with its darkness. The Osbournes 
had been in Paris a year or two. Both mother 
and daughter were art students. Another son 
of Mrs. Osbourne's — ' Herbie ' I think his name 
was — had died in Paris, and his death had been 
a great grief to her. The artist colony were not 
best pleased by an American petticoat invasion. 
As Stevenson says : ' Curious and not always 
edifying are the shifts that the French student 
uses to defend his lair ; like the cuttlefish, he 
must sometimes blacken the waters of his 

chosen pool ; but at such a time and for so 
284 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

practical a purpose Mrs. Grundy must allow 
him licence.' 

However, the Osboumes had worked at Julien's 
studio with many who were at Chevillon's, and 
they were predisposed in their favour. Miss 
Osboume had once gone to a Quartier Latin fancy 
ball, given by an American, dressed as a nugget 
of gold. The host at this dance was one who 
appears in The Wrecker as Romney. He was 
pathetically impecunious, older than most of his 
fellows. ' I 'm poor, I 'm old, I 'm bald ! ' he 
exclaimed one day in despair. He lived on fare 
as spare as many a starving Scotch student, sub- 
stituting potatoes for meal. Taureau's master 
gave him the sabots the Luxembourg authorities 
complained of as too noisy for their gallery. 
Even at Siron's the precarious state of his 
clothes was a subject of disquietude. Some 
windfall had come his way, and so he decided 
to have a junketing once in a way for his friends. 
Great were the difficulties Miss Osbourne experi- 
enced in removing the effects of the gilding next 
day from her locks. Several barbers told her 
that no washing would restore her hair to its 
original colour ; soap and water only had the 
effect of making it a sickly green. Sympathetic 
partners accompanied her in her search for some- 

2S5 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

thing to remove the tarnished shade from her 
head, and at last a capable chemist supplied 
a remedy. The Nugget of Gold had captivated 
the hearts of several of the artists. Monsieur 
Julien described his pupil as * a swabble of eyes 
and teeth.' Her stepfather, speaking in rhyme of 
her in Samoa, endorses this portrait in words : — 

' Or see, as in a looking-glass, 
Her pigmy, dimpled person pass. 
Nought great therein but eyes and hair.' 

Those who had known Miss Belle Osboume in 
Paris in the winter sang her praises, and so over- 
came the scruples of the others who complained 
of the restraint the coming guests would inflict on 
them, and all prepared to do their best to make 
Chevillon's a fitting place for the Californians. 

Returning to Gretz, Louis Stevenson was told 
he was to take the end of the table near the new 
arrivals, and guide and keep the conversation in 
his vicinity in correct channels • so he, for once 
not in search of adventures, walked in upon a 
trio who for the rest of his life were to be his 
fellow- voyagers. Louis filled the place of host 
judiciously. The other men were well satisfied. 
He devoted himself to the mother, and never 
threatened to enter the lists against them for the 
favour of the taking daughter of sweet seventeen. 

?86 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

At first they thought Louis was amiably attaching 
himself to Mrs. Osboume to give them fuller 
opportunity to devote themselves to ' Belle,' and 
were astonished to find his attentions to Mrs. 
Osbourne were not disinterested. Louis never 
seems to have hesitated in his allegiance. From 
the evening he was elected to the host's chair, 
and told to talk circumspectly to the newcomers, 
he found Mrs. Osboume suited him. Although 
he revelled in a tussle of arguments which 
whetted his appetite for battle, he also enjoyed 
having a sovereign sway, and an undisputed 
uncontradicted flow to his conversation, when 
he had a good listener. Mrs. Osboume smoked 
with a soothing relish, looking out of her in- 
scrutable eyes straight before her, sphinx-like 
in her immovableness, but hearkening all the 
while, and occasionally showing a flash of teeth 
in such a rapid smile that some one said it was 
like sheet lightning. It was, as Oliver Wendell 
Holmes says, no case of copper against copper, 
* but alien bloods develop strange currents when 
they flow to each other.' Those who remember 
these days at Gretz have recollections of aquatic 
parties, half the day spent in bathing-dresses 
on the river's edge, or boating on the Luon. 
Then there were fits of industry after spells of 

287 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

waterside loitering, and the artists tramped off 
to their motifs. Mrs. Osbourne named one 
7notif in true and terse but unpoetical American 
language, 'The pinchbug fnotif,' for it was close 
to an anthill. Louis acted as porter to her 
belongings, undeterred by the ominous title 
suggestive of midges or gadflies. A white um- 
brella, a stool, an easel, and a pochard box was 
the artist's kit. Louis bore Mrs. Osbourne's, 
and some seeing the diminutive pictures of him 
by Walter Crane in the frontispiece of Travels 
with a Donkey in the Ccvennes, urging sly 
Modes tine up the slope, past our Lady of the 
Snows, till, silhouetted against the sunset, he is 
preparing to disappear over the brow of the hill, 
say it reminded them of him at these times. 
He never looked his height (five feet ten inches) 
owing to his stoop, or rather the forward bend of 
his head ; and when walking alongside any one 
he had a habit of going a step or two ahead and 
looking back at his companion, which lessened 
his appearance of height. As beast of burden 
for the artist's kit, which was mostly strapped on 
his back, he started forth jauntily, with Mrs. 
Osbourne a few steps in the rear, his hands 
keeping pace with his tongue, his shoulders, 
which also gesticulated, loaded and heightened, 

2§9 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

with his load. The others watched the couple, 
laughing at their oppositeness in manner and 
appearance,— Mrs. Osbourne, very short, with 
her skirts neatly lifted, picking her way steadily, 
but having to hurry at times to keep up with 
her long and lean cavaher, who, flourishing his 
eloquent hands, strode along at a rapid rate. 

Robert Louis Stevenson had a toe-and-heel 
preciseness in his walk, which suggested the 
guinea fowl's undulating progress as he glided 
along. Going and coming to Mrs. Osboume's 
sketching-ground Louis led the way, talking as 
volubly when returning as when he had started 
out in the freshness of the morning. After the 
Inland Voyage they did not, as of yore at 
Chevillon's, sit and amuse themselves solely 
by talk after the day was done. They clubbed 
together, and invested in a piano, and danced 
and sang. There were contests and prizes for 
all manner of things besides the prize for draw- 
ing, which had been fought for at Barbizon. 
Mrs. Osbourne's recitation, in a consistently 
dead-level voice, of ' George Washington and 
the Pear Tree,' won honours for the most 
monotonous stor>\ They kept a vocabulary, 
written in charcoal on the white walls, of words 
which were strange to some in their polyglot 



T 



289 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

assemblage, many being from across the Atlantic. 
* Murka ' headed the list. 

For a couple of years, spring and autumn, 
from 1876 to 1878, much the same company 
met at Gretz. The last season there was dis- 
union amongst them, silence and glum looks in 
the salon instead of jest and badinage. Meals 
were taken at different times, and the good old 
comradeship disappeared. Louis, who had still 
his boyish love of marshalling puppets on the 
stage, whether they were paper or flesh and 
blood ones, tried to drill his artist friends into 
the places the comedy or drama of their life 
demanded. There was a talk of a duel, and 
Louis was eager to have it orthodoxly staged. 
Miss Osbourne's eyes had led to this romantic 
climax. Louis was to second one swain. He 
called a meeting of the community to arrange 
correctly for every detail. One who had a 
drolly humorous way of looking on the most 
serious side of everything, proposed firstly that 
the mutual piano, which they had subscribed for 
in piping times of peace, should be sold to a rival 
inn, and pistols and a pick be bought with the 
proceeds, to enable them (as they were all out of 
funds) to fight the duel, and then to bury the 

one who fell, * far in the forest shade.' This 
290 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

plan evoked laughter, at which the earnest 
Louis was sorely annoyed. He hated ridicule 
when he was engaged on any * make-believe,' 
and the chance of a real live duel, about a lady 
fair too, was not likely to come in his way again 
in this unromantic centur}'. The would-be 
duellists' weapons were not forthcoming. One 
pistol, rusty and incompetent, existed. There 
was no money to buy more ; but the piano was 
not sold, and the duelling fever died out. 

Meanwhile the centur>^ was growing beyond 
its seventies, and before it reached its eighth 
decade Louis Stevenson's road had diverged 
widely from the path of those who knew him 
in his Edinburgh days. He went off Across 
the Plains to the magnet which drew him to a 
far countr>\ The barriers to his marriage with 
Mrs. Osboume were removed by a divorce, and 
he married her in San Francisco, and became 
for a space a ' Silverado Squatter.' He only 
returned on brief visits to Edinburgh. He tried 
a summer or two in Scotland, one up in the clear 
northland air at Braemar, where, to amuse Sam 
Osbourne, he began Treasure Island. 

In 1 88 1 he became a candidate for the Chair 
of Constitutional Law and Histor\^ in Edinburgh 
University', for it was the one post in his Alma 

291 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S 

Mater for which he felt himself fitted. His 
parents were anxious to have him near them, 
and the earnings by his pen were very small, 
not enough to support his delicate self and his 
wife and son. He could again truly say, * It 
was a comfortable thought to me that I had a 
father.' His chance of success was small, 
although the retiring Professor, Sheriff ^neas 
Mackay, urged him to stand. His fame was 
only dawning then. His father's luncheon Bibles 
and his popular Jekyl and Hyde were about his 
only published volumes. To Law he had paid 
no court. He had shown to the public no interest 
in history, he had not then even written a 
footnote. Maybe, as he was one of the weak 
ones the vicious climate had not killed in infancy, 
he might have lived the longer in his weather- 
beaten but healthful City of the Winds, if he 
had been appointed. There is an amusing 
sketch by his step-daugjiter, Belle (then Mrs. 
Strong), of Louis teaching history to her small 
son, Austin. Mrs. Stevenson, senior, when in 
Samoa, took the boy's education into her hands, 
and told him to remember not many were 
schooled by so antique a relative as their great- 
grandmother. Louis gave him history lectures. 

Mrs. Strong has portrayed Austin, his hair on 
292 



EDINBURGH DAYS 

end, his hands clutching his knees for support, 
and leaning as far back as the wall allows, while 
his historian's back is only seen, his arms up- 
lifted, his thin fingers stretched out. One can 
somehow see by the reflection of his tale on 
Austin's face that it is a gruesome and a bloody 
story, such as Scotch history supplies freely. 
Though R. L. S. became only a history lecturer 
to his household, he evidently was a fearsomely 
eloquent one. 

Louis tried to find health at Davos and Hy^res, 
but finally built a house at Bournemouth, with 
the name of a strong tower on its lintel, Skerry- 
vore. Then the gipsy glamour came over him 
once more, and he roved further afield. In 1887 
he tried Saranac, and later began his Pacific 
voyaging, which ended in his settling among the 
engaging barbarism of Samoa. In 1881, when 
he was at Pitlochrie, he wrote to me, apologizing 
for not doing so sooner, ' for I have been steadily 
travelling, and that tires me shockingly nowa- 
days.' I was on the eve of an Antipodean trip, 
and in a postscript he says, * It seems a long 
way to go. Remember me to New Zealand when 
you see it.' This little jest at the end was like 
him, a flicker of nonsense ; for he little thought 
then that Brighter Britain and he were to be 

293 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON 

neighbours. His health for a while seemed 
restored in the far-off South, but he overwrought 
at his mastered vocation. * On one of the 
hottest days I have ever known in Samoa,' said 
Mr. Bazett Haggard, who had been at VaiHma 
on the 3rd December 1894, * Stevenson was 
continuously at work.' This strenuous energy 
in one highly strung and never robust had the 
fatal termination which was inevitable. Louis 
had hoped and prayed his end, when it came, 
would be mercifully swift. Even his desire to 
die in his boots was granted to him. With no 
great shadow to darken his path he had, as he 
said of his father, ' a happy life ; nor was he 
less fortunate in his death, which, at the last, 
came to him unaware.' His right hand, we 
know by the strength with which he drew Weir 
of Herniiston, never lost its cunning, nor ever 
did he forget thee, Auld Reekie ! 

When the voice of love fell, toneless, on his 
closing ears, perchance it was granted him to 
hear once more 

* The old cry of the wind 
In our inclement city ? ' 



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